In nearly all somatic cells, the ribosome biosynthesis is a key activity. The same is true also for mammalian oocytes and early embryos. This activity is intimately linked to the most prominent nuclear organelles — the nucleoli. Interestingly, during a short period around fertilization, the nucleoli in oocytes and embryos transform into ribosome-biosynthesis-inactive structures termed nucleolus-like or nucleolus precursor bodies (NPBs). For decades, researchers considered these structures to be passive repositories of nucleolar proteins used by the developing embryo to rebuild fully functional, ribosome-synthesis competent nucleoli when required. Recent evidence, however, indicates that while these structures are unquestionably essential for development, the material is largely dispensable for the formation of active embryonic nucleoli. In this mini-review, we will describe some unique features of oocytes and embryos with respect to ribosome biogenesis and the changes in the structure of oocyte and embryonic nucleoli that reflect this. We will also describe some of the different approaches that can be used to study nucleoli and NPBs in embryos and discuss the different results that might be expected. Finally, we ask whether the main function of nucleolar precursor bodies might lie in the genome organization and remodelling and what the involved components might be.

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