A key question in developmental biology addresses the mechanism of asymmetric cell division. Asymmetry is crucial for generating cellular diversity required for development in multicellular organisms. As one of the potential mechanisms, chromosomally borne epigenetic difference between sister cells that changes mating/cell type has been demonstrated only in the Schizosaccharomyces pombe fission yeast. For technical reasons, it is nearly impossible to determine the existence of such a mechanism operating during embryonic development of multicellular organisms. Our work addresses whether such an epigenetic mechanism causes asymmetric cell division in the recently sequenced fission yeast, S. japonicus (with 36% GC content), which is highly diverged from the well-studied S. pombe species (with 44% GC content). We find that the genomic location and DNA sequences of the mating-type loci of S. japonicus differ vastly from those of the S. pombe species. Remarkably however, similar to S. pombe, the S. japonicus cells switch cell/mating type after undergoing two consecutive cycles of asymmetric cell divisions: only one among four “granddaughter” cells switches. The DNA-strand–specific epigenetic imprint at the mating-type locus1 initiates the recombination event, which is required for cellular differentiation. Therefore the S. pombe and S. japonicus mating systems provide the first two examples in which the intrinsic chirality of double helical structure of DNA forms the primary determinant of asymmetric cell division. Our results show that this unique strand-specific imprinting/segregation epigenetic mechanism for asymmetric cell division is evolutionary conserved. Motivated by these findings, we speculate that DNA-strand–specific epigenetic mechanisms might have evolved to dictate asymmetric cell division in diploid, higher eukaryotes as well.
- Schizosaccharomyces japonicus
- fission yeast
- mating-type switching
- asymmetric cell division
- epigenetic differentiation mechanism
- Received September 25, 2012.
- Accepted November 1, 2012.
- Copyright © 2013 by the Genetics Society of America
Available freely online through the author-supported open access option.