Open Access Research article

Continuous-time modeling of cell fate determination in Arabidopsis flowers

Simon van Mourik1*, Aalt DJ van Dijk2, Maarten de Gee1, Richard GH Immink2, Kerstin Kaufmann2, Gerco C Angenent2, Roeland CHJ van Ham2 and Jaap Molenaar13

Author Affiliations

1 Biometris, Plant Sciences Group, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 PRI Bioscience, Plant Research International, Wageningen University and Research Center, Wageningen, The Netherlands

3 Netherlands Consortium for Systems Biology, Science Park 904, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:101  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-101

Published: 22 July 2010



The genetic control of floral organ specification is currently being investigated by various approaches, both experimentally and through modeling. Models and simulations have mostly involved boolean or related methods, and so far a quantitative, continuous-time approach has not been explored.


We propose an ordinary differential equation (ODE) model that describes the gene expression dynamics of a gene regulatory network that controls floral organ formation in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. In this model, the dimerization of MADS-box transcription factors is incorporated explicitly. The unknown parameters are estimated from (known) experimental expression data. The model is validated by simulation studies of known mutant plants.


The proposed model gives realistic predictions with respect to independent mutation data. A simulation study is carried out to predict the effects of a new type of mutation that has so far not been made in Arabidopsis, but that could be used as a severe test of the validity of the model. According to our predictions, the role of dimers is surprisingly important. Moreover, the functional loss of any dimer leads to one or more phenotypic alterations.