Transcription is commonly held to be a highly stochastic process, resulting in considerable heterogeneity of gene expression among the different cells in a population. Here, we employ quantitative in situ hybridization methods coupled with high-resolution imaging assays to measure the expression of snail, a developmental patterning gene necessary for coordinating the invagination of the mesoderm during gastrulation of the Drosophila embryo. Our measurements of steady-state mRNAs suggest that there is very little variation in snail expression across the different cells that make up the mesoderm and that synthesis approaches the kinetic limits of Pol II processivity. We propose that rapid transcription kinetics and negative autoregulation are responsible for the remarkable homogeneity of snail expression and the coordination of mesoderm invagination.
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