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Open Access Research article

The DEAD-box protein MEL-46 is required in the germ line of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans

Ryuji Minasaki13, Alessandro Puoti2 and Adrian Streit1*

Author Affiliations

1 Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Spemannstrasse 35, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany

2 Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 10, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland

3 Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Pfotenhauerstrasse 108, D-01307 Dresden, Germany

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BMC Developmental Biology 2009, 9:35  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-9-35

Published: 17 June 2009



In the hermaphrodite of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the first germ cells differentiate as sperm. Later the germ line switches to the production of oocytes. This process requires the activity of a genetic regulatory network that includes among others the fem, fog and mog genes. The function of some of these genes is germline specific while others also act in somatic tissues. DEAD box proteins have been shown to be involved in the control of gene expression at different steps such as transcription and pre-mRNA processing.


We show that the Caenorhabditis elegans gene mel-46 (

ethal) encodes a DEAD box protein that is related to the mammalian DDX20/Gemin3/DP103 genes. mel-46 is expressed throughout development and mutations in mel-46 display defects at multiple developmental stages. Here we focus on the role of mel-46 in the hermaphrodite germ line. mel-46(yt5) mutant hermaphrodites are partially penetrant sterile and fully penetrant maternal effect lethal. The germ line of mutants shows variable defects in oogenesis. Further, mel-46(yt5) suppresses the complete feminization caused by mutations in fog-2 and fem-3, two genes that are at the top and the center, respectively, of the genetic germline sex determining cascade, but not fog-1 that is at the bottom of this cascade.


The C. elegans gene mel-46 encodes a DEAD box protein that is required maternally for early embryogenesis and zygotically for postembryonic development. In the germ line, it is required for proper oogenesis. Although it interacts genetically with genes of the germline sex determination machinery its primary function appears to be in oocyte differentiation rather than sex determination.