How does a fertilized egg know how to develop?

For most animals and plants, the genetic instructions that guide early embryogenesis are inherited as RNA. During a short window of development, these RNA coordinate all cellular activity, including the processes that induce the first rounds of transcription from the embryonic genome. Eventually those maternally inherited RNA are destroyed, as newly transcribed embryonic RNA assume control of the embryo. This period of development is called the maternal-to-zygotic transition.

Maternally inherited RNA encode the instructions to reprogram an egg into pluripotent embryonic cells, the precursors to all cell types in the adult organism.  Thus, we study eggs and their RNA to better understand the mechanisms underlying cellular identity and pluripotency, and how they have evolved.  Our tool kit includes classical genetics and embryology in zebrafish, and high-throughput experimental and computational genomics across animals.