The embryo as a laboratory: quantifying transcription in Drosophila

Thomas Gregor, Hernan G. Garcia, Shawn C. Little. Trends in Genetics 30 (8): 364–375 (2014).

Transcriptional regulation of gene expression is fundamental to most cellular processes, including determination of cellular fates. Quantitative studies of transcription in cultured cells have lead to significant advances in identifying mechanisms underlying transcriptional control. Recent progress allowed implementation of these same quantitative methods in multicellular organisms to ask how transcriptional regulation unfolds both in vivo and at the single molecule level in the context of embryonic development. Here we review some of these advances in early Drosophila development, which bring the embryo on par with its single-celled counterparts. In particular, we discuss progress in methods to measure mRNA and protein distributions in fixed and living embryos, and we highlight some initial applications that lead to fundamental new insights about molecular transcription processes. We end with an outlook on how to further exploit the unique advantages that come with investigating transcriptional control in the developmental context of the embryo.


– Early Drosophila embryos possess many features advantageous to studying transcription

– New methods to measure gene expression developed in cultured organisms now allow quantification in early fly embryos

– Protein and mRNA expression, transcription rates, and RNA polymerase dynamics can be measured in terms of absolute molecular numbers

– Recent studies reveal features of transcriptional regulation specific to the fly and universal between organisms


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