Stem cell homeostasis in the shoot apical meristem involves a core regulatory feedback loop between the signalling peptide CLAVATA3 (CLV3), produced in stem cells, and the transcription factor WUSCHEL, expressed in the underlying organising centre. clv3 mutant meristems display massive overgrowth, which is thought to be caused by stem cell overproliferation, although it is unknown how uncontrolled stem cell divisions lead to this altered morphology. Here, we reveal local buckling defects in mutant meristems, and use analytical models to show how mechanical properties and growth rates may contribute to the phenotype. Indeed, clv3 mutant meristems are mechanically more heterogeneous than the wild type, and also display regional growth heterogeneities. Furthermore, stereotypical wild-type meristem organisation, in which cells simultaneously express distinct fate markers, is lost in mutants. Finally, cells in mutant meristems are auxin responsive, suggesting that they are functionally distinguishable from wild-type stem cells. Thus, all benchmarks show that clv3 mutant meristem cells are different from wild-type stem cells, suggesting that overgrowth is caused by the disruption of a more complex regulatory framework that maintains distinct genetic and functional domains in the meristem.

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