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Watch Flowers Spring to Life

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Spring has sprung! The famous Washington cherry blossoms have come and gone, and the tulips and azaleas are in full bloom. In this mesmerizing video, you’ll get a glimpse of the early steps in how some spring flowers bloom.

Floating into view are baby flowers, their cells outlined (red), at the tip of the stem of the mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Stem cells that contain the gene STM (green) huddle in the center of this fast-growing region of the plant stem—these stem cells will later make all of the flower parts.

As the video pans out, slightly older flowers come into view. These contain organs called sepals (red, bumpy outer regions) that will grow into leafy support structures for the flower’s petals.

Movie credits go to Nathanaёl Prunet, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who shot this video while working in the NIH-supported lab of Elliot Meyerowitz at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. Prunet used confocal microscopy to display the different ages and stages of the developing flowers, generating a 3D data set of images. He then used software to produce a bird’s-eye view of those images and turned it into a cool movie. The video was one of the winners in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2018 BioArt competition.

Beyond being cool, this video shows how a single gene, STM, plays a starring role in plant development. This gene acts like a molecular fountain of youth, keeping cells ever-young until it’s time to grow up and commit to making flowers and other plant parts.

Like humans, most plants begin life as a fertilized cell that divides over and over—first into a multi-cell embryo and then into mature parts, or organs. Because of its ease of use and low cost, Arabidopsis is a favorite model for scientists to learn the basic principles driving tissue growth and regrowth for humans as well as the beautiful plants outside your window. Happy Spring!


Meyerowitz Lab (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena)

Prunet Lab (University of California, Los Angeles)

The Arabidosis Information Resource (Phoenix Bioinformatics, Fremont, CA)

BioArt Scientific Image and Video Competition (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Bethesda, MD)

NIH Support: National Institute of General Medical Sciences


  • ptdt says:

    Nice video.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Mike Hasan says:

    Superb article. Loved your way of writing.

  • Leigh Taylor says:

    I will never look at a flower in the same way again!
    From an elderly lifetime gardener.

  • Carol Snyder Halberstadt says:

    On April 23, the Boston Globe published an article: “MIT researchers: Life may have begun in a puddle”. As I read, I thought… could it have happened in more than one “puddle”? In a tidal pool? Possibly in a freshwater pond, as noted in the article? Or in a deep boiling vent of Earth as some have posited? And then this question came to me: Could it have happened in more than one place and moment in time? And could that help account for all the incredible variety and complexity and magnificence of evolution, and all the different kinds of life, including the ever-expanding discoveries of kinds of hominids (including Denisovans, Neanderthals, and homo sapiens in this last brief period of our planet’s time? The tree of life is ever more complex — and the beauty and complexity of our ever-unfinished understanding of it is seen as a tiny fraction in this Arabadopsis flower… And from an elderly lifetime sojourner on our Earth, I thank you for showing us this moment of a flower’s birth….

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