Temporal patterns of embryonic gene expression and their dependence on oogenetic factors.
Successful development of a fertilized egg beyond early cleavage divisions requires the de novo initiation and subsequent regulation of embryonic transcription. The egg provides the specialized environment within which the newly formed zygotic nucleus initiates its developmental program and as a result plays an obligatory role in its regulation. Although the precise timing of the onset of embryonic transcription in mammals varies during early cleavage divisions, several common elements exist. In the present essay we review the current literature on the timing and control of embryonic gene expression in mammals, and discuss recent findings from our laboratory on gene expression patterns in bovine embryos and their relation to other species, and zygotic gene activation (ZGA). Lastly, we discuss the putative role of maternally inherited factors in conferring developmental competence to the blastocyst stage, and a method to identify such factors present in oocytes as mRNA.