The Caenorhabditis elegans germline is a well-studied model system for investigating the control of cell fate by signaling pathways. Cell signals at the distal tip of the germline promote cell proliferation; just before the loop, signals couple cell maturation to organism-level nutrient status; at the proximal end of the germline, signals coordinate oocyte maturation and fertilization in the presence of sperm. The latter two events require dual phosphorylation and activation of ERK, the effector molecule of the Ras/MAPK cascade. In C. elegans, ERK is known as MPK-1. At this point, none of today's methods for real-time monitoring of dually phosphorylated MPK-1 are working in the germline. Consequently, quantitative understanding of the MPK-1-dependent processes during germline development is limited. Here, we make a step toward advancing this understanding using a model-based framework that reconstructs the time course of MPK-1 activation from a snapshot of a fixed germline. Our approach builds on a number of recent studies for estimating temporal dynamics from fixed organisms, but takes advantage of the anatomy of the germline to simplify the analysis. Our model predicts that the MPK-1 signal turns on ∼30 h into germ cell progression and peaks ∼7 h later.
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