Asymmetric segregation of P granules during the first four divisions of the Caenorhabditis elegans embryo is a classic example of cytoplasmic partitioning of germline determinants. It is thought that asymmetric partitioning of P granule components during mitosis is essential to distinguish germline from soma. We have identified a mutant (pptr-1) in which P granules become unstable during mitosis and P granule proteins and RNAs are distributed equally to somatic and germline blastomeres. Despite symmetric partitioning of P granule components, pptr-1 mutants segregate a germline that uniquely expresses P granules during postembryonic development. pptr-1 mutants are fertile, except at high temperatures. Hence, asymmetric partitioning of maternal P granules is not essential to specify germ cell fate. Instead, it may serve to protect the nascent germline from stress.
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