Volumetric finite-element modelling of biological growth

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Differential growth is the driver of tissue morphogenesis in plants, and also plays a fundamental role in animal development. Although the contributions of growth to shape change have been captured through modelling tissue sheets or isotropic volumes, a framework for modelling both isotropic and anisotropic volumetric growth in three dimensions over large changes in size and shape has been lacking. Here, we describe an approach based on finite-element modelling of continuous volumetric structures, and apply it to a range of forms and growth patterns, providing mathematical validation for examples that admit analytic solution. We show that a major difference between sheet and bulk tissues is that the growth of bulk tissue is more constrained, reducing the possibility of tissue conflict resolution through deformations such as buckling. Tissue sheets or cylinders may be generated from bulk shapes through anisotropic specified growth, oriented by a polarity field. A second polarity field, orthogonal to the first, allows sheets with varying lengths and widths to be generated, as illustrated by the wide range of leaf shapes observed in nature. The framework we describe thus provides a key tool for developing hypotheses for plant morphogenesis and is also applicable to other tissues that deform through differential growth or contraction.