Multicellular development produces patterns of specialized cell types. Yet, it is often unclear how individual cells within a field of identical cells initiate the patterning process. Using live imaging, quantitative image analyses and modeling, we show that during Arabidopsis thaliana sepal development, fluctuations in the concentration of the transcription factor ATML1 pattern a field of identical epidermal cells to differentiate into giant cells interspersed between smaller cells. We find that ATML1 is expressed in all epidermal cells. However, its level fluctuates in each of these cells. If ATML1 levels surpass a threshold during the G2 phase of the cell cycle, the cell will likely enter a state of endoreduplication and become giant. Otherwise the cell divides. Our results demonstrate a fluctuation-driven patterning mechanism for how cell fate decisions can be initiated through a random yet tightly regulated process.


If your username is different from your full name, we require you to identify yourself within the comment itself. Comments are checked by a moderator (and/or an eLife editor) before they appear. Comments should be constructive, relevant to the article, conform to our terms and conditions, and include any pertinent competing interests.