Can the French Flag and Reaction Diffusion models explain flower patterning?

It has been 50 years since Lewis Wolpert introduced the French Flag model proposing the patterning of different cell types based on threshold concentrations of a morphogen diffusing in the tissue. Sixty-seven years ago, Alan Turing introduced the idea of patterns initiating de novo from a Reaction Diffusion network. Together these models have been used to explain many patterning events in animal development, so a new study takes a look at their applicability to flower development.

First, although many plant transcription factors move through plasmodesmata from cell to cell, in the flower there is little evidence that they specify fate in a concentration dependent manner, so they cannot yet be described as morphogens. Second, the reaction diffusion model appears to be a reasonably good description of the formation of spots of pigment on petals, although additional nuances are present. Third, aspects of both of these combine in a new fluctuation based patterning system creating the scattered pattern of giant cells in the Arabidopsis sepals.

In the future, more precise imaging and manipulations of the dynamics of patterning networks combined with mathematical modeling will allow us to better understand how the multilayered complex and beautiful patterns of flowers emerge de novo.

Access the full study at the Journal of Experimental Botany.

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