Preformation and epigenesis converge to specify primordial germ cell fate in the early Drosophila embryo.
A critical step in animal development is the specification of primordial germ cells (PGCs), the precursors of the germline. Two seemingly mutually exclusive mechanisms are implemented across the animal kingdom: epigenesis and preformation. In epigenesis, PGC specification is non-autonomous and depends on extrinsic signaling pathways. The BMP pathway provides the key PGC specification signals in mammals. Preformation is autonomous and mediated by determinants localized within PGCs. In Drosophila, a classic example of preformation, constituents of the germ plasm localized at the embryonic posterior are thought to be both necessary and sufficient for proper determination of PGCs. Contrary to this longstanding model, here we show that these localized determinants are insufficient by themselves to direct PGC specification in blastoderm stage embryos. Instead, we find that the BMP signaling pathway is required at multiple steps during the specification process and functions in conjunction with components of the germ plasm to orchestrate PGC fate.