DNA synthesis in each cell lineage of the early C. elegans embryo was measured using microspectrofluorimetry. Aphidicolin was shown to inhibit DNA synthesis almost instantly and completely. Aphidicolin was then used to investigate how DNA synthesis controls expression of two biochemical markers that appear at different times during gut development: gut granules and a carboxylesterase. We show that marker expression is controlled neither by reaching the normal DNA: cytoplasm ratio, by counting the normal number of rounds of DNA synthesis, nor by a simple lengthening of the cell cycle. Instead, expression of both gut markers requires a short period of DNA synthesis in the first cell cycle after the gut has been clonally established.