The shoot apical meristem (SAM) generates above-ground aerial organs throughout the lifespan of higher plants. In order to fulfill this function, the meristem must maintain a balance between the self-renewal of a reservoir of central stem cells and organ initiation from peripheral cells. The activity of the pluripotent stem cell population in the SAM is dynamically controlled by complex, overlapping signaling networks that include the feedback regulation of meristem maintenance genes and the signaling of plant hormones. Organ initiation likewise requires the function of multifactor gene regulatory networks, as well as instructive cues from the plant hormone auxin and reciprocal signals from the shoot meristem. Floral meristems (FMs) are products of the reproductive SAM that sustains a transient stem cell reservoir for flower formation. Regulation of FM activity involves both feedback loops shared with the SAM and floral-specific factors. Recent studies have rapidly advanced our understanding of SAM function by adopting newly developed molecular and computational techniques. These advances are becoming integrated with data from traditional molecular genetics methodologies to develop a framework for understanding the central principles of SAM function.
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