Many, if not most, embryos begin development with extremely short cell cycles that exhibit unusually rapid DNA replication and no gap phases. The commitment to the cell cycle in the early embryo appears to preclude many other cellular processes that only emerge as the cell cycle slows just prior to gastrulation at a major embryonic transition known as the mid-blastula transition (MBT). As reviewed here, genetic and molecular studies in have identified changes that extend S phase and introduce a postreplicative gap phase, G2, to slow the cell cycle. Although many mysteries remain about the upstream regulators of these changes, we review the core mechanisms of the change in cell cycle regulation and discuss advances in our understanding of how these might be timed and triggered. Finally, we consider how the elements of this program may be conserved or changed in other organisms.


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