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Epigenetic Licensing of Germline Gene Expression by Maternal RNA in C. elegans

Science  02 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6047, pp. 1311-1314
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208178

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Abstract

RNA can act as a regulator of gene expression with roles in transposon silencing, antiviral defense, and cell fate determination. Here, we show that in Caenorhabditis elegans a maternal transcript of the sex-determining gene fem-1 is required to license expression of a wild-type fem-1 allele in the zygotic germ line. Females homozygous for fem-1 deletions produce heterozygous offspring exhibiting germline feminization, reduced fem-1 activity, and transcript accumulation. Injection of fem-1 RNA incapable of encoding a protein into the maternal germ line rescues this defect in the progeny. The defect in zygotic fem-1 expression is heritable, suggesting that the gene is subject to epigenetic silencing that is prevented by maternal fem-1 transcripts. This mechanism may contribute to protecting the identity and integrity of the germ line.

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