Deployment of the bicoid morphogen gradient in early Drosophila embryos requires the prelocalization of bicoid mRNA to the anterior pole of the egg. This anterior localization is mediated by a cis-acting localization signal contained within the 3′ untranslated region of the bicoid mRNA. Here we use a series of bicoid transgenes carrying small deletions in the 3′ untranslated region to survey for functional elements that constitute the localization signal. We identify and characterize one essential element, BLE1, which specifically directs the early steps of localization. In addition, we find that many deletions within the bicoid mRNA 3′ untranslated region impair but do not prevent localization. One such deletion specifically interferes with a later step in localization. Thus the bicoid mRNA localization signal appears to consist of multiple different elements, each responsible for different steps in the localization process.

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