Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Cell & Molecular Biology

First Advisor

Mary C. Mullins

Second Advisor

Jeremy Wang


The Balbiani body (Bb) is the first marker of polarity in vertebrate oocytes. The Bb is a conserved structure found in diverse animals including insects, fish, amphibians, and mammals. During early zebrafish oogenesis, the Bb assembles as a transient aggregate of mRNA, proteins, and membrane-bound organelles at the presumptive vegetal side of the oocyte. As the early oocyte develops, the Bb appears to grow slowly until at the end of stage I of oogenesis it disassembles and deposits its cargo of localized mRNAs and proteins at the cortex. In fish and frogs, this cargo includes the germ plasm as well as gene products required to specify dorsal tissues of the future embryo. We demonstrate that the Bb is a stable, solid structure that forms a size exclusion barrier similar to other biological hydrogels. Despite its central role in oocyte polarity, little is known about the mechanism behind the Bb’s action. Analysis of the few known protein components of the Bb is insufficient to explain how the Bb assembles, translocates, and disassembles. We isolated Bbs from zebrafish oocytes and performed mass spectrometry to define the Bb proteome. We successfully identified 80 proteins associated with the Bb sample, including known Bb proteins and novel RNA-binding proteins. In particular, we identified Cirbpa and Cirbpb, which have both an RNA-binding domain and a predicted self-aggregation domain. In stage I oocytes, Cirbpa and Cirbpb localize to the Bb rather than the nucleus (as in somatic cells), indicating that they may have a specialized function in the germ line. Both the RNA-binding domain and the self-aggregation domain are sufficient to localize to the Bb, suggesting that Cirbpa and Cirbpb interact with more than just their mRNA targets within the Bb. We propose that Cirbp proteins crosslink mRNA cargo and proteinaceous components of the Bb as it grows. Beyond Cirbpa and Cirbpb, our proteomics dataset presents many candidates for further study, making it a valuable resource for building a comprehensive mechanism for Bb function at a protein level.

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