Background: In the majority of animals, the centrosome-the microtubule-organizing center of the cell-is assembled from components of both the sperm and the egg. How the males of the insect order Hymenoptera acquire centrosomes is a mystery, as they originate from virgin birth.
Results: To address this issue, we observed centrosome, spindle and nuclear behavior in real time during early development in the parthenogenetic hymenopteran Nasonia vitripennis. Female meiosis was identical in unfertilized eggs. Centrosomes were assembled before the first mitotic division but were inherited differently in unfertilized and fertilized eggs. In both, large numbers of asters appeared at the cortex of the egg after completion of meiosis. In unfertilized eggs, the asters migrated inwards and two of them became stably associated with the female pronucleus and the remaining cytoplasmic asters rapidly disappeared. In fertilized eggs, the Nasonia sperm brought in paternally derived centrosomes, similar to Drosophila melanogaster. At pronuclear fusion, the diploid zygotic nucleus was associated only with paternally derived centrosomes. None of the cytoplasmic asters associated with the zygotic nucleus and, as in unfertilized eggs, they rapidly degenerated.
Conclusions: Selection and migration of the female pronucleus is independent of the sperm and its aster. Unfertilized male eggs inherit maternal centrosomes whereas fertilized female eggs inherit paternal centrosomes. This is the first system described in which centrosomes are reciprocally inherited. The results suggest the existence of a previously undescribed mechanism for regulating centrosome number in the early embryo.