Electron microscopic analysis of chromatin replication in the cellular blastoderm drosophila melanogaster embryo

Steven L. McKnight, Oscar L. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


Transmission electron microscopic techniques were used to study the spatial distribution of replicons and the ultrastructure of chromatin in the S phase genome of cellular blastoderm Drosophila melanogaster embryos. We observed chromatin exhibiting distinct bifurcations along each fiber during the initial 20 min of the first cell cycle of blastulation. We interpreted the "bubble-like" configurations produced by adjacent bifurcations as intermediate structures in chromatin replication (that is, replicons). We observed homologous ribonucleoprotein (RNP) fiber arrays on both chromatid arms within some replicons, implying DNA sequence homology and reinforcing the identification of such arms as daughter chromatid fibers. We did not observe replicon configurations on chromatin obtained from embryos staged at more than 20 min into cellular blastulation. Daughter chromatid fibers, however, were identified by the presence of identical RNP fiber arrays on chromatid strands arranged in parallel on the electron microscope grid. We examined the distribution of replicon structures on the cellular blastoderm genome and compared it with electron microscopic data on DNA replication in cleavage embryos (Blumenthal, Kriegstein and Hogness, 1973). S phase is completed in slightly < 4 min during cleavage, or approximately one fifth the time required for DNA synthesis in cellular blastoderm embryos. The mean distance separating adjacent replication origins at cellularization was estimated to be 10.6 kilobases (kb), a value 35% greater than the 7.9 kb inter-origin average determined for cleavage embryos. In contrast to the near-simultaneous activation of replication origins during cleavage replication, we observed that replication origins are not activated synchronously at cellular blastulation. We concluded that the marked increase in the duration of S phase is effected by a reduction in the frequency of replication activation events which occur asynchronously during genome replication at cellularization. We found that the ultrastructure of newly replicated chromatin exhibited a morphology indistinguishable from nucleosomal chromatin. Unreplicated chromatin fibers separating adjacent replicons also exhibit spherical subunits. We inferred that the spherical structures on replicating chromatin are nucleosomes and concluded that histones are not disassociated from the DNA significantly prior to DNA replication, and that a very rapid reassociation of nucleosomes occurs on both daughter DNA molecules following replication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)795-804
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1977

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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