Biology

Synthetic embryos grown from stem cells don't need sperm or eggs

Synthetic embryos grown from stem cells don't need sperm or eggs
A sample of the synthetic embryos in the nutrient solution
A sample of the synthetic embryos in the nutrient solution
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A sample of the synthetic embryos in the nutrient solution
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A sample of the synthetic embryos in the nutrient solution
A synthetic embryo over its eight days of development
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A synthetic embryo over its eight days of development

Researchers have created synthetic mouse embryos out of stem cells, removing the need for sperm, eggs and even a womb. They were then grown to almost half the entire gestation period, at which point they had all of the organ progenitors, including a beating heart. The tech could eventually be used to grow organs for transplant.

The new study, from researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, built on two branches of the team’s previous research. The first involved reprogramming stem cells into a “naive” state that allows them to differentiate into all other cells, including other stem cells. The other work focused on developing a device that could grow embryos more effectively outside of the womb.

By combining the two techniques, the team has now grown some of the most advanced synthetic mouse embryos to date. They started with naive mouse stem cells, which had been cultured in a Petri dish for several years prior. These were separated into three groups that would play key roles in the embryo development.

One group contained cells that would develop into embryonic organs. The other two were treated with master regulator genes of extra-embryonic tissues – the placenta for one group and the yolk sac for the other. The three types of cells were then mixed together in the artificial womb, which carefully controls pressure and oxygen exchange, and gently moves the beakers around to simulate natural nutrient flow.

Once inside, the three types of cells clumped together to form aggregates, which had the potential to develop into embryo-like structures. As might be expected, the vast majority failed at that stage, with only 0.5% – or 50 out of about 10,000 – successfully developing further.

A synthetic embryo over its eight days of development
A synthetic embryo over its eight days of development

Those lucky few started to form spheres of cells, and eventually elongated structures resembling natural embryos, complete with placentas and yolk sacs. Thy were allowed to develop for over eight days, which is almost half of the mouse gestation period, by which point they had formed all the early progenitors of organs. That includes a beating heart, blood stem cell circulation, a well-shaped brain, an intestinal tract and the beginnings of a spinal column.

On closer inspection, the team found that the shape of internal structures and the gene expression patterns of these synthetic embryos matched natural ones to within 95%. Their organs also seemed to be functional.

The team says that this technique could help reduce the need for live animal testing, and could eventually become a plentiful source of tissues and organs for transplantation.

“The embryo is the best organ-making machine and the best 3D bioprinter – we tried to emulate what it does,” said Professor Jacob Hanna, lead researcher on the study. “Instead of developing a different protocol for growing each cell type – for example, those of the kidney or liver – we may one day be able to create a synthetic embryo-like model and then isolate the cells we need. We won’t need to dictate to the emerging organs how they must develop. The embryo itself does this best.”

The research was published in the journal Cell.

Source: Weizmann Institute of Science

6 comments
6 comments
unclejoe
organs grown from your own stem cells.
old news to science fiction readers.
Expanded Viewpoint
Let's hope that no one "accidentally" releases any of these creations out into the world and they are then found to be able to out compete us Humans!! Many times it has been shown to be that yesterday's science fictions, are tomorrow's science facts!
Treon Verdery
I do not know anything about this technology. Perhaps the atp generation facilitating chemical NMN could increase the % of cell groups that become embryos.

Also well known to biologists are laser tractor beams that could be used to pull single cells together to start an embryo.
Tacky-on
Wow! What a Brave New World this is!
czechster
In the year 2025
You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
Indiver716
@czechster: I don't normally respond to other posters but your sestet is a perfect piece of poetry. Says everything that needs to be said in a few lines. Thanks for sharing your creativity.