In the plant meristem, tissue-wide maturation gradients are coordinated with specialized cell networks to establish various developmental phases required for indeterminate growth. Here, we used single-cell transcriptomics to reconstruct the protophloem developmental trajectory from the birth of cell progenitors to terminal differentiation in the Arabidopsis thaliana root. PHLOEM EARLY DNA-BINDING-WITH-ONE-FINGER (PEAR) transcription factors mediate lineage bifurcation by activating guanosine triphosphatase signaling and prime a transcriptional differentiation program. This program is initially repressed by a meristem-wide gradient of PLETHORA transcription factors. Only the dissipation of PLETHORA gradient permits activation of the differentiation program that involves mutual inhibition of early versus late meristem regulators. Thus, for phloem development, broad maturation gradients interface with cell-type-specific transcriptional regulators to stage cellular differentiation.
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