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Go Away Mum!

RNA molecules in the egg provide early instructions to the developing embryo

20 April 2021

Go Away Mum!

There comes a time in life when we have to start doing things without the help of our parents, and it’s a lot sooner than you might think. Sexually reproducing species like C. elegans nematode worms are created when a tiny sperm fertilises a much larger egg, which then divides over and over again to make an embryo (left to right: one, four, eight and 100-cells). Mum has a much bigger influence over these early stages than dad, as the egg is pre-packed with messenger RNA molecules – genetic instructions that control early development. However, the embryo can’t rely on these maternal messages forever, so at some point it has to get rid of them and rely on its own genes. Researchers have discovered that this maternal RNA is removed by being sliced up into tiny pieces. They suspect a similar system may be at work in other species, including humans.

Written by Kat Arney

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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