Developmental potential of fused Caenorhabditis elegans oocytes: generation of giant and twin embryos
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With their first cleavage blastomeres in Caenorhabditis elegans are fixed to very different developmental programs going along with differential segregation of maternal gene products. To investigate whether indications for a prelocalization of cytoplasmic components can already be found in unfertilized egg cells, we fused mature C. elegans oocytes with the help of a laser microbeam. Fertilization of two fused oocytes resulting in triploid zygotes showed an essentially normal early cleavage pattern with the establishment of five somatic cell lineages and a germline and also a normal spatial arrangement of blastomeres. A considerable fraction of such embryos hatched and developed into fertile giant nematodes. The numbers of cell nuclei in freshly hatched and adult giant animals were found to be essentially the same as in untreated controls. When three fused oocytes were fertilized, two alternative patterns of early embryogenesis were observed. Half of the embryos followed the normal cleavage mode. The other half, however, developed in a twin-like fashion with all cells present in two copies, apparently due to fertilization by two sperm. In such embryos, two areas of gastrulation were established, resulting in the generation of two separate gut primordia. In summary, our results suggest that (1) in contrast to the uncleaved zygote in the mature oocyte of C. elegans no cytoplasmic regionalization exists, (2) the invariable cell numbers typical for the C. elegans embryo are not controlled via cell size, and (3) the entry of a second sperm can induce a cascade of events in the egg leading to the formation of two complete embryo anlagen.
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