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Mathematical Modeling of Plant Stem Cells

Plants maintain pools of active stem cells to continuously generate new organs such as leaves and flowers. The plant stem cells are located in specialized tissues, so-called meristems. Mathematical models contribute to the mechanistic understanding of meristem regulations and mutant phenotypes.

Cooperation partners: C. Gaillochet (Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA, USA), J. Lohmann (Center of Organismal Studies, Heidelberg University), A. Marciniak-Czochra (Institute for Applied Mathematics, Heidelberg University)

The shoot apical meristem (SAM) is responsible for formation of all bove-ground structures, such as leaves, flowers and fruits. It is subdivided into a central zone (Cz) where stem cells are located and a peripheral zone (Pz) where fast dividing progenitor cells are located. Precursors of plant organs, so-called primordia, originate in the peripheral zone and detach from the meristem at its outer boundary.

Plant cells are encased in cell walls and cannot migrate. The stem cell fate is induced by local signals. The signal that induces stemness in the SAM is the transcription factor WUSCHEL (WUS). In response to WUS the stem cells produce CLAVATA3 (CLV3) which negatively acts on WUS production. This feedback loop regulates the number of stem cells. HECATE (HEC) is a family of factors that fine-tune the WUS-CLV3 feedback loop.

Ordinary differential equation models of the different SAM cell populations help to interpret experiments and to understand mutant phenotypes. The hec triple mutant hec1,2,3 which possesses no functional HEC is characterized by smaller meristems compared to the wildtype. Counterintuitively, the organ production per time unit is higher in the triple mutant although its meristem has a reduced number of stem and progenitor cells. The mathematical models suggest that this can be explained by a higher transition from the central to the peripheral zone and a higher rate of primordia formation.

Cancer stem cell
Meristem geometry

Key publications

  1. F. Klawe*, T. Stiehl*, P. Bastian, C. Gaillochet, JU. Lohmann, A. Marciniak-Czochra, "Mathematical modeling of plant cell fate transitions controlled by hormonal signals", PLoS Comput Biol, 16(7):e1007523, 2020. * shared first authorship
  2. C. Gaillochet, T. Stiehl, C. Wenzl, JJ. Ripoll, LJ. Bailey-Steinitz, L. Li, A. Pfeiffer, A. Miotk, J. Hakenjos, J. Forner, MF. Yanofsky, A. Marciniak-Czochra, JU. Lohmann, "Control of plant cell fate transitions by transcriptional and hormonal signals", eLife 6:e30135, 2017.