In early Caenorhabditis elegans embryos, asymmetric cell divisions produce descendants with asynchronous cell cycle times. To investigate the relationship between cell cycle regulation and pattern formation, we have identified a collection of embryonic-lethal mutants in which cell divisions are delayed and cell fate patterns are abnormal. In div (for division delayed) mutant embryos, embryonic cell divisions are delayed but remain asynchronous. Some div mutants produce well-differentiated cell types, but they frequently lack the endodermal and mesodermal cell fates normally specified by a transcriptional activator called SKN-1. We show that mislocalization of PIE-1, a negative regulator of SKN-1, prevents the specification of endoderm and mesoderm in div-1 mutant embryos. In addition to defects in the normally asymmetric distribution of PIE-1, div mutants also exhibit other losses of asymmetry during early embryonic cleavages. The daughters of normally asymmetric divisions are nearly equal in size, and cytoplasmic P-granules are not properly localized to germline precursors in div mutant embryos. Thus the proper timing of cell division appears to be important for multiple aspects of asymmetric cell division. One div gene, div-1, encodes the B subunit of the DNA polymerase alpha-primase complex. Reducing the function of other DNA replication genes also results in a delayed division phenotype and embryonic lethality. Thus the other div genes we have identified are likely to encode additional components of the DNA replication machinery in C. elegans.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.