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The mystery of the frustrated flowers that create the geometric shapes of romanesco cauliflower

International scientists with the participation of the CSIC and the Politècnica de Valencia publish the finding in the journal ‘Science’

An international research team with the participation of CSIC and the Polytechnic University of Valencia has unveiled the unique fractal structure of the romanesco cauliflower.

As reported by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), a fractal it is a geometric object whose fragmented structure is repeated at various scales.

The study shows that the structure is actually a proliferation of buds (meristems) programmed to become flowers but they never reach their goal; what they do is turn into stems that, in turn, continue to try to produce flowers.

Cauliflower is born from the repetition of this process, which causes a succession of stalks upon stalks. The results of the research are published in the journal ‘Science’.

Thus, the singular form of romanesco is explained by the increasingly rapid production of stems that fail in their attempt to become flowers, while this production rate is constant in other cauliflowers.

As a result, the inflorescence of the romanesco acquires a pyramidal structure composed of smaller pyramids, causing its fractal appearance.

“The meristems of cauliflower do not manage to achieve the objective of forming flowers, but they remember that temporarily they did manage to acquire a floral state. The additional mutations that affect the growth and activity of meristems are those that cause the fractal forms characteristic of romanesco “, point out the researchers from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology of PlantsIBMCP (CSIC-UPV) who have participated in this study. Francisco Madueño, Antonio Serrano and Carlos Giménez.

The study has been led by French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS, in its acronym in French) and the French National Institute for Research in Informatics and Automation (INRIA).

In the work, the researchers combined in vivo experiments with 3D computational models that reproduce the inflorescence development of plants. His goal was to discover the molecular foundations of the growth of cauliflowers in general, and Romanescos, in particular.

A fractal is a geometric object whose fragmented structure repeats itself at various scales. Romanesco, a type of cauliflower, shows this geometric structure. Its meristems (buds) compose a logarithmic spiral, shaped like a natural fractal. Its number of spirals corresponds to a Fibonacci number.

Contribution of the IBMCP The work of the IBCMP researchers has focused on characterizing the network of genes that determine the formation of a flower or stem and whose activity is therefore altered in the meristems of cauliflower and romanesco.

Specifically, they observed that TFL1, a gene essential for the formation of stems, is activated by genes that promote flower formation, an initially contradictory result but key to understanding the development of the inflorescence of plants and, specifically, the formation of structures like the romanesco fractal.

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