The thermosensitive mutant sm19 of Paramecium tetraurelia undergoes a progressive reduction in cell length and basal body number over successive divisions at the nonpermissive temperature of 35 degrees C. In spite of these defects, sm19 cells retain the same generation time as wild-type cells at 35 degrees C. Cytological observations at both electron and light microscopy levels reveal no other perturbation than the rarefaction of basal bodies and the rare (3%) absence of one or two microtubules in basal bodies or ciliary axonemes. The temperature-sensitive period, during the last 30 min of the cell cycle, corresponds to the phase of basal body duplication. Upon transfer back to the permissive temperature, all basal bodies are normally duplicated. The mutational defect is transiently restored by microinjection of wild-type cytoplasm or of a soluble proteic fraction from wild-type cell homogenates. Altogether, the cytological and physiological data support the conclusion that the sm19+ gene codes for a diffusible product required for the initiation of basal body duplication and would thus be the first identified gene involved in this process. Our data also indicate that in Paramecium basal body number is not coupled with control of the cell cycle, but helps determine the shape of the cell via the organization of the cytoskeleton.

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