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The construction of multicellular organisms depends on stem cells—cells that can both regenerate and produce daughter cells that undergo differentiation. Here, we show that the gaseous messenger ethylene modulates cell division in the cells of the quiescent center, which act as a source of stem cells in the seedling root. The cells formed through these ethylene-induced divisions express quiescent center-specific genes and can repress differentiation of surrounding initial cells, showing that quiescence is not required for these cells to signal to adjacent stem cells. We propose that ethylene is part of a signaling pathway that modulates cell division in the quiescent center in the stem cell niche during the postembryonic development of the root system.