Vasa, a DEAD box mRNA helicase similar to eIF4A, is involved in pole plasm assembly in the Drosophila oocyte and appears to regulate translation of oskar and nanos mRNAs. However, several vasa alleles exhibit a wide range of early oogenesis phenotypes. Here we report a detailed analysis of Vasa function during early oogenesis using novel as well as previously identified hypomorphic vasa alleles. We find that vasa is required for the establishment of both anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral polarity of the oocyte. The polarity defects of vasa mutants appear to be caused by a reduction in the amount of Gurken protein at stages of oogenesis critical for the establishment of polarity. Vasa is required for translation of gurken mRNA during early oogenesis and for achieving wild-type levels of gurken mRNA expression later in oogenesis. A variety of early oogenesis phenotypes observed in vasa ovaries, which cannot be attributed to the defect in gurken expression, suggest that vasa also affects expression of other mRNAs.

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