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Michele Boiani, Ellen Casser, Georg Fuellen and Elisabeth S Christians

The mammalian zygote is a totipotent cell that generates all the cells of a new organism through embryonic development. However, if one asks about the totipotency of blastomeres after one or two zygotic divisions, opinions differ. As it is impossible to determine the individual developmental potency of early blastomeres in an intact embryo, experiments of blastomere isolation were conducted in various species, showing that two-cell blastomeres could give rise to a new organism when sister cells were separated. A mainstream interpretation was that each of the sister mammalian blastomeres was equally totipotent. However, reevaluation of those experiments raised some doubts about the real prevalence of cases in which this interpretation could truly be validated. We compiled experiments that tested the individual developmental potency of early mammalian blastomeres in a cell-autonomous way (i.e. excluding nuclear transfer and chimera production). We then confronted the developmental abilities with reported molecular differences between sister blastomeres. The reevaluated observations were at odds with the mainstream view: A viable two-cell embryo can already include one non-totipotent blastomere. We were, thus, led to propose a revised model for totipotency continuity based on the construction of the zygote as a mosaic, which accounts for differential inheritance of totipotency-relevant components between sister blastomeres. This takes place with no preordained mechanisms that would ensure a reproducible partition. This model, which is compatible with the body of data on regulative properties of mammalian early embryos, aims at tempering the rigid interpretation that discounted maternal constraints on totipotency.

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Caroline Schwarzer, Marcin Siatkowski, Martin J Pfeiffer, Nicole Baeumer, Hannes C A Drexler, Bingyuan Wang, Georg Fuellen and Michele Boiani

The long-standing view of immortal germline vs mortal soma poses a fundamental question in biology concerning how oocytes age in molecular terms. A mainstream hypothesis is that maternal ageing of oocytes has its roots in gene transcription. Investigating the proteins resulting from mRNA translation would reveal how far the levels of functionally available proteins correlate with mRNAs and would offer novel insights into the changes oocytes undergo during maternal ageing. Gene ontology (GO) semantic analysis revealed a high similarity of the detected proteome (2324 proteins) to the transcriptome (22334 mRNAs), although not all proteins had a cognate mRNA. Concerning their dynamics, fourfold changes of abundance were more frequent in the proteome (3%) than the transcriptome (0.05%), with no correlation. Whereas proteins associated with the nucleus (e.g. structural maintenance of chromosomes and spindle-assembly checkpoints) were largely represented among those that change in oocytes during maternal ageing; proteins associated with oxidative stress/damage (e.g. superoxide dismutase) were infrequent. These quantitative alterations are either impoverishing or enriching. Using GO analysis, these alterations do not relate in any simple way to the classic signature of ageing known from somatic tissues. Given the lack of correlation, we conclude that proteome analysis of mouse oocytes may not be surrogated with transcriptome analysis. Furthermore, we conclude that the classic features of ageing may not be transposed from somatic tissues to oocytes in a one-to-one fashion. Overall, there is more to the maternal ageing of oocytes than mere cellular deterioration exemplified by the notorious increase of meiotic aneuploidy.