SUMMARY The rapidly dividing cleavage stages of embryos do not have the typical responses to cell damage, such as induction of the heat shock response, use of mitotic checkpoints, or use of apoptosis to eliminate severely damaged cells. This could create problems with integrity of DNA, but the solution in these embryos appears to be a “be prepared” approach, in which specific adaptations are used to minimize DNA damage during cleavage and the use of apoptosis at the mid-blastula transition to remove any cells that were nevertheless damaged. It has been assumed that this approach has evolved because of the advantage of rapid production of a motile larvae. Alternatively, this particular approach may have the selective advantage of increasing mutation rate when there are greater environmental stresses. This could provide more variants on which selective pressures could act and thus accelerate evolution during environmentally stressful periods.