Oscillations are a key to achieving dynamic behavior and thus occur in biological systems as diverse as the beating heart, defecating worms, and nascent somites. Here we report pervasive, large-amplitude, and phase-locked oscillations of gene expression in developing C. elegans larvae, caused by periodic transcription. Nearly one fifth of detectably expressed transcripts oscillate with an 8 hr period, and hundreds change >10-fold. Oscillations are important for molting but occur in all phases, implying additional functions. Ribosome profiling reveals that periodic mRNA accumulation causes rhythmic translation, potentially facilitating transient protein accumulation as well as coordinated production of stable, complex structures such as the cuticle. Finally, large-amplitude oscillations in RNA sampled from whole worms indicate robust synchronization of gene expression programs across cells and tissues, suggesting that these oscillations will be a powerful new model to study coordinated gene expression in an animal.
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