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Cell Syst. 2017 Feb 22;4(2):219-230.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.cels.2017.01.009. Epub 2017 Feb 15.

Canalization of C. elegans Vulva Induction against Anatomical Variability.

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AMOLF, Science Park 104, 1098 XG Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
AMOLF, Science Park 104, 1098 XG Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Electronic address:


It is a fundamental open question as to how embryos develop into complex adult organisms with astounding reproducibility, particularly because cells are inherently variable on the molecular level. During C. elegans vulva induction, the anchor cell induces cell fate in the vulva precursor cells in a distance-dependent manner. Surprisingly, we found that initial anchor cell position was highly variable and caused variability in cell fate induction. However, we observed that vulva induction was "canalized," i.e., the variability in anchor cell position and cell fate was progressively reduced, resulting in an invariant spatial pattern of cell fates at the end of induction. To understand the mechanism of canalization, we quantified induction dynamics as a function of anchor cell position during the canalization process. Our experiments, combined with mathematical modeling, showed that canalization required a specific combination of long-range induction, lateral inhibition, and cell migration that is also found in other developmental systems.


C. elegans; Delta-Notch; cell migration; cell signaling; development; morphogen gradient; robustness; single-molecule FISH; stochasticity; variability

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