The University of Cambridge’s genetic engineering scientists created a “synthetic” mouse embryo without the need for egg or sperm cells.
According to a news release issued by the university on Thursday, the embryos created utilizing stem cells were able to begin forming a heart, brain, and other organs for up to a week.
At a news conference presenting the findings, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a Cambridge professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology, said, “It’s a marvelously intricate period of development, and it has tremendously meaningful relevance for the rest of our life.”
“Our mouse embryo model not only grows a brain, but also a beating heart, and all the components that go on to build up the body,” said Zernike, who is also the study’s primary author.
The researchers believe their results will one day help explain why so many human pregnancies fail so early in development, and they may even inspire future efforts to make lab-grown organs for donation.
Researchers have learned how to develop already produced embryos in the lab, as well as how to construct artificial but simplified versions of embryos or particular organs—advances that have helped overcome some of these difficulties.
This latest study, on the other hand, claimed to be one of the first successful attempts to create a functional mouse embryo from scratch.
Scientists have gained significant biological insights by studying normally formed embryos. However, many elements of early development in living species are difficult to see, according to the report.
Embryos could live for up to eight and a half days.
The embryos were generated by mixing three different types of embryonic stem cells in precisely the appropriate mixture and environment, allowing them to communicate with one another and mirroring what happens naturally throughout embryonic development.
The cells then started forming the basic structures of an embryo and went through the early stages of development, which included the production of a yolk sac, brain, and beating heart. The embryos were able to live for up to eight and a half days.
The team from the United Kingdom is not the first to claim the fabrication of a synthetic mouse embryo.
Interesting Engineering reported a similar claim on August 3rd, claiming that Israeli scientists created a synthetic mouse embryo without needing sperm or egg cells, but only stem cells extracted “from the skin.”
The UK authors contend that their work had been under review for about a year before the Israel study was submitted for publication and that their model is more complicated than any other model to date.
“This is the first model that allows you to investigate brain development in the context of the entire developing mouse embryo,” Zernicka added.
In 2021, an Israeli team demonstrated that embryos may be grown in a beaker for up to six days. According to Gizmodo, the Cambridge team is also working on their solution.
Early failed pregnancies can benefit from research.
The researchers hope that this study will someday aid in identifying the various reasons why pregnancies can fail early on, even before people are aware of them.
According to the March of Dimes, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit, up to 50% of all pregnancies may result in miscarriage. Estimates, however, may differ.
“So many pregnancies fail around this period before most women realize they’re pregnant,” Zernicka explained.
“This is the foundation for everything else that happens throughout pregnancy. If something goes wrong, the pregnancy will fail.”
Many in-vitro fertilization embryos, on the other hand, may fail to implant or develop. Simply observing these early stages of development up close could offer scientists a wealth of information on how we become the people we are, according to the experts.
If the UK research team’s approaches with human stem cells prove successful, they might be used to guide the synthesis of synthetic organs for transplant patients.
The finding, which was initially published in Nature, is the culmination of years of research at the University of Cambridge.