Most of the plants that we see around us in nature and the plants that we study in the lab or in the field, whether it is for fundamental research or breeding and improvement of agriculture, share the fundamental feature of being multicellular organisms.
Multicellularity can be achieved by a tight control of cell-to-cell adhesion. This mean making sure that the cells that make up the organism stay attached to each other to maintain the overall integrity of the organism, but also that the adhesion is not too tight and allows the proper growth and development of the organism. While this has been largely studied in animal systems, we still know very little about how plant cell-to-cell adhesion works.
Recently researchers have started to identify genes in plants that are involved in the control of cell-to-cell adhesion, and while there is still a long way to go, the complexity of the sensing and signaling pathways involved are starting to be understood. But ultimately, adhesion is a physical parameter.
What is the strength holding the cells together? What are the forces that would otherwise pull the cells apart? Are these mechanical forces also signals that the plants can perceive and respond to in order to maintain cell-to-cell adhesion?
Stéphane is now initiating interdisciplinary approaches combining biology, chemistry and physics to better understand how plants achieve their multicellularity.