Scientists create world’s first ‘synthetic embryos’
Researchers use stem cells from mice to form embryo-like structures with intestinal tract, beginnings of a brain, and a beating heart
Ian Sample, The Guardian (UK)
3 Aug 2022
Researchers have created the world’s first “synthetic embryos” in a groundbreaking feat that bypassed the need for sperm, eggs and fertilisation.
Scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Israel found that stem cells from mice could be made to self-assemble into early embryo-like structures with an intestinal tract, the beginnings of a brain, and a beating heart.
Known as synthetic embryos because they are created without fertilised eggs, the living structures are expected, in the near term, to drive deeper understanding of how organs and tissues form during the development of natural embryos.
But researchers believe the work could also reduce animal experimentation and ultimately pave the way for new sources of cells and tissues for human transplantation. For example, skin cells from a leukaemia patient could potentially be transformed into bone marrow stem cells to treat their condition.
“Remarkably, we show that embryonic stem cells generate whole synthetic embryos, meaning this includes the placenta and yolk sac surrounding the embryo,” said Prof Jacob Hanna, who led the effort. “We are truly excited about this work and its implications.” The work is published in Cell.
Last year, the same team described how they had built a mechanical womb that enabled natural mouse embryos to grow outside the uterus for several days. In the latest work, the same device was used to nurture mouse stem cells for more than a week, nearly half the gestation time for a mouse.
Some of the cells were pre-treated with chemicals, which switched on genetic programmes...
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