The control of cell fate was investigated in the root epidermis of Arabidopsis thaliana. Two distinct types of differentiated epidermal cells are normally present: root-hair-bearing cells and hairless cells. In wild-type Arabidopsis roots, epidermal cell fate was found to be correlated with cell position, with root-hair cells located over radial walls between cortical cells, and with hairless cells located directly over cortical cells. This normal positional relationship was absent in ttg (transparent testa glabrous) mutants (lacking trichomes, anthocyanins, and seed coat mucilage); epidermal cells in all positions differentiate into root-hair cells. The opposite condition was generated in roots of transgenic Arabidopsis expressing the maize R (R-Lc) gene product (a putative TTG homologue) under the control of a strong promoter (CaMV35S), which produced hairless epidermal cells in all positions. In both the ttg and R-expressing roots, epidermal cell differentiation was affected at an early stage, prior to the onset of cell elongation or root-hair formation. The ttg mutations were also associated with abnormalities in the morphology and organization of cells within and surrounding the root apical meristem. The results indicate that alterations in TTG activity cause developing epidermal cells to misinterpret their position and differentiate into inappropriate cell types. This suggests that, in wild-type roots, TTG provides, or responds to, positional signals to cause differentiating epidermal cells that lie over cortical cells to adopt a hairless cell fate.