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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Aphids exhibit divergent modes of embryogenesis during the sexual and asexual phases of the life cycle. To explore how a single genome can give rise to these alternative developmental modes, we have initiated embryological studies of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum. Here we present a detailed description of parthenogenetic, viviparous embryonic development in the pea aphid. We compare and contrast development of the parthenogenetic embryo with that of the embryo resulting from sexual reproduction. The primary difference between the embryos is the scale on which development occurs: early parthenogenetic development occurs in a volume approximately three orders of magnitude smaller than the sexual egg, largely because of the apparent absence of yolk in the parthenogenetic egg. This results in a drastically different duration of syncytial energid cleavage and, presumably, patterning processes in the two embryos must act at scales that differ by orders of magnitude. The eggs also develop on time scales that differ approximately by an order of magnitude and the timing of the embryonic movements, collectively called blastokinesis, have temporally shifted relative to growth of the embryo. In addition, the endosymbiotic bacteria are transferred from mother to embryo in different ways in the two embryos. Finally, the function of the serosa has diverged greatly in the two embryos: in the sexual egg the serosa deposits a thick cuticle that protects the egg, whereas the serosa of the parthenogenetic embryo is greatly reduced and its function is unclear. The pea aphid is a useful model system for examining how a single genome has evolved to allow divergent modes of development.