How genetic information is used to reproducibly generate the three-dimensional shape of an organism is a long-standing question in biology. Morphogenesis is a dynamic process that depends on the interplay between pattern formation, cell division, and growth. It is also a multi-scale problem in which even minor modifications of elemental attributes at the cell scale translate into complex structural changes at the tissue or organ scale. Plants represent the ideal models to study the mechanisms underlying the generation of biological form, since they continuously form new tissues and organs. A singular feature of plant cells is their immobility that results from their cell-wall-mediated connection to their neighbours. This property poses a unique challenge and requires plant cells to constantly adjust their behaviour relative to each other. Despite significant progress in recent years, the mechanisms controlling plant organ shape remain poorly understood. However, recent advances in the convergence of biology, computer sciences and physics now provide new and promising opportunities to gain a holistic and quantitative understanding of tissue morphogenesis.

The multidisciplinary research unit FOR2581 “Quantitative Morphodynamics of Plants“ will take advantage of these new developments and will investigate the nature and logic of the necessary coordination between cells characterised by different fates, cell attributes and growth patterns that underlies tissue morphogenesis. To this end the FOR2581 builds on three highly connected core competencies: The biologists will generate multi-dimensional microscopy data sets, which will be rigorously analysed by computer scientists, specializing in segmentation and classification. The corresponding (derived) quantitative data will then be integrated with multicellular computational models, developed by computer scientists and physicists. Finally, the resulting biological insight will form the basis of new experiments. Thus, FOR2581 brings together a unique interdisciplinary team focused on elucidating the mechanisms underlying development of specific forms crucial to the function of diverse plant organs. By building on the iterative reciprocal interaction between experimental biologists and theoretical computer scientists, we will be able to formulate and test new hypotheses that will result in a better understanding of central principles of plant morphogenesis.

The FOR2581 will have a substantial impact at three levels:

• At the scientific level, it will assess what general principles underpin plant morphogenesis.

• At the level of resources, it will catalyse the development and application of novel computational tools for quantitative morphodynamics.

• At the level of training, it will foster the development of a new community of young quantitative plant developmental biologists able to combine traditional cell and molecular biology with computational and physical methods to solve biological problems.