The differentiation of a leaf – from its inception as a semicircular bulge on the surface of the shoot apical meristem into a flattened structure with specialized upper and lower surfaces – is one of the most intensely studied processes in plant developmental biology. The large body of contemporary data on leaf dorsiventrality has its origin in the pioneering experiments of Ian Sussex, who carried out these studies as a PhD student in the early 1950s. Here, we review his original experiments in their historical context and describe our current understanding of this surprisingly complex process. Finally, we postulate possible candidates for the ‘Sussex signal’ – the elusive meristem-derived factor that first ignited interest in this important developmental problem.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
Work on leaf polarity is supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation [IBN-0615752 and IOS-1355018]; an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship to M.C.P.T.; and a grant from SystemsX.ch to C.K.