Zinc is an essential metal that serves as a cofactor in a variety of cellular processes, including meiotic maturation. Cellular control of zinc uptake, availability and efflux is closely linked to meiotic progression in rodent and primate reproduction where large fluctuations in zinc levels are critical at several steps in the oocyte-to-embryo transition. Despite these well-documented roles of zinc fluxes during meiosis, only a few of the genes encoding key zinc receptors, membrane-spanning transporters, and downstream signaling pathway factors have been identified to date. Furthermore, little is known about analogous roles for zinc fluxes in the context of a whole organism. Here, we evaluate whether zinc availability regulates germline development and oocyte viability in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, an experimentally flexible model organism. We find that similar to mammals, mild zinc limitation in C. elegans profoundly impacts the reproductive axis: the brood size is significantly reduced under conditions of zinc limitation where other physiological functions are not perturbed. Zinc limitation in this organism has a more pronounced impact on oocytes than sperm and this leads to the decrease in viable embryo production. Moreover, acute zinc limitation of isolated zygotes prevents extrusion of the second polar body during meiosis and leads to aneuploid embryos. Thus, the zinc-dependent steps in C. elegans gametogenesis roughly parallel those described in meiotic-to-mitotic transitions in mammals.
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