In the 4-cell Caenorhabditis elegans embryo, two blastomeres are destined to generate pharyngeal cells, each by a distinct developmental strategy: one pathway is inductive, while the other is autonomous. Here, we identify the pha-4 locus. In animals lacking pha-4 activity, an early step in pharyngeal organogenesis is blocked: no pharyngeal primordium is formed and differentiated pharyngeal cells are absent. Most other tissues are generated normally in pha-4 mutants, including cells related to pharyngeal cells by cell lineage and position. Thus, pha-4 activity is required to form the pharyngeal primordium. We propose that pha-4 marks a convergence of the inductive and autonomous pathways of pharyngeal development and suggest that establishment of pharyngeal organ identity is a crucial step for pharyngeal organogenesis.

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