Using differential interference contrast optics, combined with cinematography, we have studied the morphological changes that the living, syncytial embryo undergoes from stage 10 through 14 of Drosophila embryogenesis, that is just prior to and during formation of the cellular blastoderm. We have supplemented these studies with data collected from fixed, stained, whole embryos. The following information has been obtained. The average duration of nuclear cycles 10, 11, 12 and 13 is about 9, 10, 12 and 21 min, respectively (25 degrees C). In these four cycles, the duration of that portion of the mitotic period that lacks a discrete nuclear envelope is 3, 3, 3 and 5 min, respectively. The length of nuclear cycle 14 varies in a position-specific manner throughout the embryo, the shortest cycles being of 65 min duration. During nuclear cycles 10 through 13, it is commonly observed in living embryos that the syncytial blastoderm nuclei enter (and leave) mitosis in one of two waves that originate nearly simultaneously from the opposite anterior and posterior poles of the embryo, and terminate in its midregion. From our preparations of quick-frozen embryos, we estimate that these mitotic waves take on average about half a minute to travel over the embryonic surface from pole to equator. The yolk nuclei, which remain in the core of the embryo when the rest of the nuclei migrate to the periphery, divide in synchrony with the migrating nuclei at nuclear cycles 8 and 9, and just after the now peripherally located nuclei at nuclear cycle 10. After cycle 10, these yolk nuclei cease dividing and become polyploid. The syncytial embryo has at least three distinct levels of cytoskeletal organization: structured domains of cytoplasm are organized around each blastoderm nucleus; radially directed tracks orient colchicine-sensitive saltatory transport throughout the peripheral cytoplasm; and a long-range organization of the core of the embryo makes possible coherent movements of the large inner yolk mass in concert with each nuclear cycle. This highly organized cytoplasm may be involved in providing positional information for the important process of nuclear determination that is known to occur during these stages.
- © 1983 by Company of Biologists