Our research focuses on the systems biology of axillary meristem initiation and the associated establishment of leaf polarity. We are interested in how cells are coordinated to establish patterns, in particular how new meristems establish at the leaf axil (the junction where the leaf meets the stem), and how leaves acquire dorsoventral (adaxial-abaxial) polarity. We employ molecular, genomic, genetic and imaging techniques.
Unlike animals, plants form ramifying systems with continuous production of lateral organs through meristems, which contain stem cells. In addition, higher plants form axillary meristems in the axil of each leaf base to form branches. Each axillary meristem gives rise to a new cycle of growth and development, responsive to the environment that exists at the time of growth. After flowering, axillary meristems develop into flowers or racemes. The initiation of an axillary meristem requires establishment of new stem cell niches.
Axillary meristem initiation is also influenced by leaf polarity establishment. Planar leaves of most plant species have distinct polarity, which forms early during leaf growth at the shoot apex. This pattern formation is not only self-organized, but is also controlled by the parent meristem. Therefore, stem cells in shoot meristems are responsible for both organogenesis and organ pattern formation of leaves.