Cellular morphodynamics and genome-wide networks driving plant cell shape change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


The growth of plants is driven by the division and expansion of cells. This proposal focuses on uncovering the mechanisms driving cell expansion while for the first time identifying the 3D geometrical changes in cell shape. Seed germination will be used to examine cell shape change in plants, as seeds grow only by cell expansion, while their cells do not divide. The genes and proteins that make plant cells grow will be identified using statistical analyses of existing data describing gene expression. This work will uncover the molecular processes that make a plant cell change shape.

Technical Summary

Cell expansion is an integral part of plant development. The hormone gibberellic acid (GA) and its modulation of the DELLA growth repressors represent key molecular components regulating cell shape change. A key gap in our knowledge is a direct molecular link between the DELLA growth repressors, downstream gene expression driving cell shape change and the quantitative cell shape changes themselves. This proposal will address this gap by identifying the molecular links between DELLA growth repressors, cell expansion-related gene expression and the quantitative effect these components have on cellular geometry. Using a computational analysis of cell shape in combination with the network-driven meta-analysis of publicly available gene expression data, this project will identify the conserved tissue-specific gene networks driving cell expansion in plant cells. The work will as well identify the molecular basis predisposing the ability of a plant cell to expand. This work will collectively provide a multi-scale link between gene expression and protein abundance with the quantitative changes in cellular geometry diving plant morpogenesis.

Planned Impact

Software generated as part of the project will be made freely available, and IP generated though other aspects of the work exploited through the University of Nottingham Research and Innovation Services Department. Gene network information will be made freely available through an on-line queryable web site as we have previously done (http://vseed.nottingham.ac.uk). This research will be an informal collaboration to develop the open-source software package MorphoGraphX with Professor Richard Smith (University of Bern, Switzerland) (see letter of support for this application). Impact activities will be undertaken by Professor Michael Holdsworth, publications will be written by Professor Michael Holdsworth and the named researcher Dr George Bassel and other collaborators as apropriate, and software development (including web page development) will be undertaken by all members of the proposal. Pathways to Impact will be monitored and evaluated every six months. Web site impact will be monitored by collecting website statistics. Monitoring web site statistics will be carried out using the free tool Statcounter (http://statcounter.com/).


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Bassel GW (2016) To Grow or not to Grow? in Trends in plant science

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Bassel GW (2016) Quantifying morphogenesis in plants in 4D. in Current opinion in plant biology

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Bassel GW (2018) Information Processing and Distributed Computation in Plant Organs. in Trends in plant science

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Bassel GW (2014) Mechanical constraints imposed by 3D cellular geometry and arrangement modulate growth patterns in the Arabidopsis embryo. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Duran-Nebreda S (2017) Bridging Scales in Plant Biology Using Network Science. in Trends in plant science

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Duran-Nebreda S (2019) Plant behaviour in response to the environment: information processing in the solid state. in Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

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Jackson MDB (2017) Network-based approaches to quantify multicellular development. in Journal of the Royal Society, Interface

Description - germination initiated in radicle
- cellular level mechanical models of whole organ growth
- a role for cell size, shape and organization in mechanical growth and interactions in cells. displacement of growth from site where germiantion is initiated following mechanical constraints
Exploitation Route Use by the plant breeding and seed treatment industries to improve the germination performance of seeds and selling establishment.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink