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Development. 2003 Mar;130(5):889-900.

Composition and dynamics of the Caenorhabditis elegans early embryonic transcriptome.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Temporal profiles of transcript abundance during embryonic development were obtained by whole-genome expression analysis from precisely staged C. elegans embryos. The result is a highly resolved time course that commences with the zygote and extends into mid-gastrulation, spanning the transition from maternal to embryonic control of development and including the presumptive specification of most major cell fates. Transcripts for nearly half (8890) of the predicted open reading frames are detected and expression levels for the majority of them (>70%) change over time. The transcriptome is stable up to the four-cell stage where it begins rapidly changing until the rate of change plateaus before gastrulation. At gastrulation temporal patterns of maternal degradation and embryonic expression intersect indicating a mid-blastula transition from maternal to embryonic control of development. In addition, we find that embryonic genes tend to be expressed transiently on a time scale consistent with developmental decisions being made with each cell cycle. Furthermore, overall rates of synthesis and degradation are matched such that the transcriptome maintains a steady-state frequency distribution. Finally, a versatile analytical platform based on cluster analysis and developmental classification of genes is provided.

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