Acaulescent species of Streptocarpus Lindl. show unusual patterns of growth, characterized by anisocotyly (i.e. the unequal growth of cotyledons after germination) and lack of a conventional embryonic shoot apical meristem (SAM). A SAM-like structure appears during post-embryonic development on the axis of the continuously growing cotyledon. Since we have shown previously that KNOX genes are involved in this unusual morphology of Streptocarpus rexii, here we investigated the expression pattern of WUSCHEL (WUS), which is also required for the indeterminacy of the SAM, but is expressed independently from KNOX in Arabidopsis thaliana. In A. thaliana WUSCHEL is involved in the maintenance of the stem cell fate in the organizing centre. The expression pattern of the WUS ortholog in S. rexii (SrWUS) strongly deviates from that of the model plant, suggesting a fundamentally different spatial and temporal regulation of signalling involved in meristem initiation and maintenance. In S. rexii, exogenous application of growth regulators, i.e. gibberellin (GA(3)), cytokinin (CK) and a gibberellin biosynthesis inhibitor (PAC), prevents anisocotyly and relocates meristematic cells to a position of conventional SAMs; this coincides with a re-localization of the two main pathways controlling meristem formation, the SrWUS and the KNOX pathways. Our results suggest that the establishment of a hormone imbalance in the seedlings is the basis of anisocotyly, causing a lateral dominance of the macrocotyledon over the microcotyledon. The peculiar morphogenetic program in S. rexii is linked to this delicate hormone balance and is the result of crosstalk between endogenous hormones and regulatory genes.
WUS and STM homologs are linked to the expression of lateral dominance in the acaulescent Streptocarpus rexii (Gesneriaceae)