Meristem maintenance, achieved through the highly conserved CLAVATA-WUSCHEL (CLV-WUS) regulatory circuit, is fundamental in balancing stem cell proliferation with cellular differentiation. Disruptions to meristem homeostasis can alter meristem size, leading to enlarged organs. Cotton (Gossypium spp.), the world’s most important fiber crop, shows inherent variation in fruit size, presenting opportunities to explore the networks regulating meristem homeostasis and to impact fruit size and crop value. We identified and characterized the cotton orthologs of genes functioning in the CLV-WUS circuit. Using virus-based gene manipulation in cotton, we altered the expression of each gene to perturb meristem regulation and increase fruit size. Targeted alteration of individual components of the CLV-WUS circuit modestly fasciated flowers and fruits. Unexpectedly, controlled expression of meristem regulator SELF-PRUNING (SP) increased the impacts of altered CLV-WUS expression on flower and fruit fasciation. Meristem transcriptomics showed SP and genes of the CLV-WUS circuit are expressed independently from each other, suggesting these gene products are not acting in the same path. Virus-induced silencing of GhSP facilitated the delivery of other signals to the meristem to alter organ specification. SP has a role in cotton meristem homeostasis, and changes in GhSP expression increased access of virus-derived signals to the meristem.
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