Speed limit on DNA-making sets pace for life's first steps
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IMAGE: Images from a scanning electron microscope show the midline of the mutant fly (below) go sideways at morphogensis, just as the embryo begins to take shape. Compare that to the… view more 

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Credit: Images courtesy Stanislav Y. Shvartsman

Fruit flies make for stingy mothers, imparting only a portion of the genetic building blocks their offspring need to survive. The rest must be produced by the fertilized egg in its first few steps of growth.

Scientists puzzled for two decades over this seemingly unnecessary withholding. Now researchers at Princeton University have shown that the inhibiting mechanism, controlled by an enzyme known as RNR, is actually key to the embryo’s survival. Too much material early on leads to disaster for the fledgling lifeform.

“This study shows us how fragile development can be,” said Stanislav Shvartsman, professor of chemical and biological engineering and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton. “We asked the question, ‘Why does the mother have to be so frugal?'” The problem led Shvartsman to test what happens when an embryo inherits an abundance of these building blocks. The answer was not pretty. “We realized, if you do not limit the supply, you create a temporal conflict that disrupts

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