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Summer Science Exhibition 2016 | Monday 4 July - Sunday 10 July | London

Self made shape

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Play a computer game to choose combinations of growth conflicts and watch as your creation emerges as a shape.  
  • Use a tiny handheld microscope to get an insect-eye view into flowers and insect traps.  
  • Watch shapes emerge by creating conflicts on plastic that shrinks under heat.

Find out more

How do small groups of plant cells in microscopic buds turn themselves into the diverse flower and leaf shapes that we see all around us? Our exhibit shows how the latest technologies are helping us reveal the fascinating internal conflicts that create an endless array of plant shapes.

Shape is crucial in the interaction of plants with their environment; such as allowing access to the right pollinators and finding light and water. Advances in live and 3D imaging, genomics, synthetic biology and computational modelling have allowed an integrated approach to discovering the genetic control of shape. We are starting to find that plant shapes emerge through internal, dynamic, conflicting patterns of growth, specified by patterns of gene activity. The diversity of shapes arises from changes in these patterns of conflict. By understanding how plant shapes form, we may be better able to improve their performance, correct them when they go wrong, and perhaps move towards new ways of creating objects, through self-construction rather than assembly. 

Watch Professor Enrico Coen CBE FRS explore the rules of plant self construction into fascinating natural forms.

Find out more about Inner Worlds.

Presented by: John Innes Centre, Keep-art, University of the Arts, London