Plasticity of Drosophila germ granules during germ cell development.
Compartmentalization of RNAs and proteins into membraneless structures called granules is a ubiquitous mechanism for organizing and regulating cohorts of RNAs. Germ granules are ribonucleoprotein (RNP) assemblies required for germline development across the animal kingdom, but their regulatory roles in germ cells are not fully understood. We show that after germ cell specification, Drosophila germ granules enlarge through fusion and this growth is accompanied by a shift in function. Whereas germ granules initially protect their constituent mRNAs from degradation, they subsequently target a subset of these mRNAs for degradation while maintaining protection of others. This functional shift occurs through the recruitment of decapping and degradation factors to the germ granules, which is promoted by decapping activators and renders these structures P body-like. Disrupting either the mRNA protection or degradation function results in germ cell migration defects. Our findings reveal plasticity in germ granule function that allows them to be repurposed at different stages of development to ensure population of the gonad by germ cells. Additionally, these results reveal an unexpected level of functional complexity whereby constituent RNAs within the same granule type can be differentially regulated.