During embryonic development, cells must establish fates, morphologies, and behaviors in coordination with one another to form a functional body. A prevalent hypothesis for how this coordination is achieved is that each cell's fate and behavior is determined by a defined mixture of RNAs. Only recently has it become possible to measure the full suite of transcripts in a single cell. Here we quantify genome-wide mRNA abundance in each cell of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo up to the 16-cell stage. We describe spatially dynamic expression, quantify cell-specific differential activation of the zygotic genome, and identify genes that were previously unappreciated as being critical for development. We present an interactive data visualization tool that allows broad access to our dataset. This genome-wide single-cell map of mRNA abundance, alongside the well-studied life history and fate of each cell, describes at a cellular resolution the mRNA landscape that guides development.
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