GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


RNA Therapeutics Institute

First Thesis Advisor

Craig C. Mello, PhD


Blastomeres, Caenorhabditis elegans, Carrier Proteins, Cell Differentiation, DNA-Binding Proteins, Ectoderm, Endoderm, Mesoderm, Transcription Factors


Dissertations, UMMS; Blastomeres; Caenorhabditis elegans; Carrier Proteins; Cell Differentiation; DNA-Binding Proteins; Ectoderm; Endoderm; Mesoderm; Transcription Factors


How do embryos develop with such poise from a single zygote to multiple cells with different identities, and yet survive? At the four-cell stage of the C. elegans embryo, only the blastomere EMS adopts the endo-mesoderm identity. This fate requires SKN-1, the master regulator of endoderm and mesoderm differentiation. However, in the absence of the RNA binding protein POS-1, EMS fails to fulfill its fate despite the presence of SKN-1. pos-1(-) embryos die gutless. Conversely, the RNA binding protein MEX-5 prevents ectoderm blastomeres from adopting the endo-mesoderm identity by repressing SKN-1. mex-5(-) embryos die with excess muscle at the expense of skin and neurons.

Through forward and reverse genetics, I found that genes gld-3/Bicaudal C, cytoplasmic adenylase gld-2, cye-1/Cyclin E, glp-1/Notch and the novel gene neg-1 are suppressors that restore gut development despite the absence of pos-1. Both POS-1 and MEX-5 bind the 3’UTR of neg-1 mRNA and its poly(A) tail requires GLD-3/2 for elongation. Moreover, neg-1 requires MEX-5 for its expression in anterior ectoderm blastomeres and is repressed in EMS by POS-1. Most neg-1(-) embryos die with defects in anterior ectoderm development where the mesoderm transcription factor pha-4 becomes ectopically expressed. This lethality is reduced by the concomitant loss of med- 1, a key mesoderm-promoting transcription factor.

Thus the endo-mesoderm identity of EMS is determined by the presence of SKN- 1 and the POS-1 repression of neg-1, whose expression is promoted by MEX-5. Together they promote the anterior ectoderm identity by repressing mesoderm differentiation. Such checks and balances ensure the vital plurality of cellular identity without the lethal tyranny of a single fate.



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