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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nuclear speed and cycle length co-vary with local density during syncytial blastoderm formation in a cricket


The blastoderm is a broadly conserved stage of early animal development, wherein cells form a layer at the embryo's periphery. The cellular behaviors underlying blastoderm formation are varied and poorly understood. In most insects, the pre-blastoderm embryo is a syncytium: nuclei divide and move throughout the shared cytoplasm, ultimately reaching the cortex. In Drosophila melanogaster, some early nuclear movements result from pulsed cytoplasmic flows that are coupled to synchronous divisions. Here, we show that the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus has a different solution to the problem of creating a blastoderm. We quantified nuclear dynamics during blastoderm formation in G. bimaculatus embryos, finding that: (1) cytoplasmic flows are unimportant for nuclear movement, and (2) division cycles, nuclear speeds, and the directions of nuclear movement are not synchronized, instead being heterogeneous in space and time. Moreover, nuclear divisions and movements co-vary with local nuclear density. We show that several previously proposed models for nuclear movements in D. melanogaster cannot explain the dynamics of G. bimaculatus nuclei. We introduce a geometric model based on asymmetric pulling forces on nuclei, which recapitulates the patterns of nuclear speeds and orientations of both unperturbed G. bimaculatus embryos, and of embryos physically manipulated to have atypical nuclear densities.

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