The Balbiani body is an evolutionarily conserved asymmetric aggregate of organelles that is present in early oocytes of all animals examined, including humans. Although first identified more than 150 years ago, genes acting in the assembly of the Balbiani body have not been identified in a vertebrate. Here we show that the bucky ball gene in the zebrafish is required to assemble this universal aggregate of organelles. In the absence of bucky ball the Balbiani body fails to form, and vegetal mRNAs are not localized in oocytes. In contrast, animal pole localized oocyte markers are expanded into vegetal regions in bucky ball mutants, but patterning within the expanded animal pole remains intact. Interestingly, in bucky ball mutants an excessive number of cells within the somatic follicle cell layer surrounding the oocyte develop as micropylar cells, an animal pole specific cell fate. The single micropyle permits sperm to fertilize the egg in zebrafish. In bucky ball mutants, excess micropyles cause polyspermy. Thus bucky ball provides the first genetic access to Balbiani body formation in a vertebrate. We demonstrate that bucky ball functions during early oogenesis to regulate polarity of the oocyte, future egg and embryo. Finally, the expansion of animal identity in oocytes and somatic follicle cells suggests that somatic cell fate and oocyte polarity are interdependent.
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