Plants, like animals, grow from a single, fertilized cell into a complex, mature organism with many distinctive cell types. The goal of the field of developmental biology is to understand how this occurs. Development encompasses the study of a wide range of processes occurring simultaneously: coordinated cell division, cell growth, cell differentiation, morphogenesis, pattern formation, and establishment of the overall body plan or architecture. Unlike animals, however, plants are stationary and must adapt to their initial environment. One consequence is that most plants have a flexible body plan: while humans establish two arms and two legs very early in development, plants determine their body plan dynamically, initiating new branches in numbers and patterns appropriate for the conditions. Thus, a solitary tree will have a multitude of branches and leaves to maximize exposure to light, while a single tree in a dense forest will have very few branches in order to reach the top of the canopy.
Labs conducting research in this area include: