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Cell. 1987 Dec 24;51(6):1071-8.

A cell that dies during wild-type C. elegans development can function as a neuron in a ced-3 mutant.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.


Mutations in the C. elegans gene ced-3 prevent almost all programmed cell deaths, so that in a ced-3 mutant there are many extra cells. We show that the pharyngeal neuron M4 is essential for feeding in wild-type worms, but in a ced-3 mutant, one of the extra cells, probably MSpaaaaap (the sister of M4), can sometimes take over M4's function. The function of MSpaaaaap, unlike that of M4, is variable and subnormal. One possible explanation is that its fate, being hidden by death and not subject to selection, has drifted randomly during evolution. We suggest that such cells may play roles in the evolution of cell lineage analogous to those played by pseudogenes in the evolution of genomes.

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