Specifying Vascular Pattern in Newly Emerged Roots

All plants and animals start life as a single cell. This cell and the subsequent daughter cells then divide to form a multicellular organism. These divisions do not occur at random. They follow a precisely coordinated developmental programme to generate a specific shape or form. Individual cells are instructed to undertake specific cell identities and these various cell types are arranged in specific patterns to create tissues, organs and ultimately an entire organism.

In this project we will investigate the genetic mechanisms that generate the positional information upon which a cellular pattern can be superimposed, and specifically on the information is generated to position vascular tissues form within newly formed roots. This project will improve our understanding about how organisms form, but it will also give us detailed insights into vascular development. Plants generate sugars in the leaves and extract water and minerals through their roots. However, it is the vascular tissues (the xylem and phloem) that allow these substances to be transported throughout the plant. These vascular tissues must be arranged in precise patterns to provide a continuous network linking organs within the plant and we will uncover how that pattern is determined.

In order to do this, we will generate a series of tools that will allow not only aid our understanding of vascular patterning, but also of many other aspects of root growth. In this project a biologist and mathematician will work together to build a computer programme that can simulate the way that a group of genes behave as a root grows. This will allow us to rapidly test what happens as we change the genetic make up of our computer programme. Using this computational approach we can rapidly test many different patterning mechanisms, allowing us to focus the time consuming experimental analysis on the most important genes. We will make this programme freely available so that other researchers can adapt it to study other types of roots or other processes within the roots.