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The number of nongonadal nuclei in the free-living soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans increases from about 550 in the newly hatched larva to about 810 in the mature hermaphrodite and to about 970 in the mature male. The pattern of cell divisions which leads to this increase is essentially invariant among individuals; rigidly determined cell lineages generate a fixed number of progeny cells of strictly specified fates. These lineages range in length from one to eight sequential divisions and lead to significant developmental changes in the neuronal, muscular, hypodermal, and digestive systems. Frequently, several blast cells follow the same asymmetric program of divisions; lineally equivalent progeny of such cells generally differentiate into functionally equivalent cells. We have determined these cell lineages by direct observation of the divisions, migrations, and deaths of individual cells in living nematodes. Many of the cell lineages are involved in sexual maturation. At hatching, the hermaphrodite and male are almost identical morphologically; by the adult stage, gross anatomical differences are obvious. Some of these sexual differences arise from blast cells whose division patterns are initially identical in the male and in the hermaphrodite but later diverge. In the hermaphrodite, these cells produce structures used in egg-laying and mating, whereas, in the male, they produce morphologically different structures which function before and during copulation. In addition, development of the male involves a number of lineages derived from cells which do not divide in the hermaphrodite. Similar postembryonic developmental events occur in other nematode species.
Adapted by Yusuf KARABEY for WORMATLAS, 2003