When you sow a seed in your garden it typically grows to be many thousands or millions of times larger in volume. Similarly, a flower bud may start off one tenth of a millimetre across and end up several centimetres big, increasing its surface area more than ten thousand times. This tendency of living plants tissue to grow massively in size is quite unlike most materials we are familiar with like metals, plastic or wood. To understand how plant tissue shapes itself we therefore turn to computational models to simulate how growing materials behave and understand their properties. Such computational models allow us to understand how three types of conflict in growth can lead to the generation of different shapes. In the model of the Arabidopsis leaf the conflicts are produced in the early leaf bud (the way different regions grow can also be seen in Facebud).
In the model of the normal Snapdragon flower, conflicts are produced by patterns of gene activity in the early flower bud.
A mutation that inactivates one of these genes changes the patterns of conflict and produces a radially symmetrical mutant Snapdragon flower.
The same principles used to model plant shapes can also be used to create organic forms that don’t exist in nature, like a bulbous vase which can be printed in 3D ceramic (see Collaborations with artists).