Image Courtesy of University of Cambridge
In a breakthrough that redefines how life can be produced, embryologists working in the University of Cambridge in the UK have developed realistic-looking mouse embryos using just stem cells. No egg. No sperm.
The researchers put the cells in a three-dimensional scaffold and watched, fascinated, as they started lining and communicating into the bullet shape of a mouse embryo a few days old.
Stem cells are magical in their strong potential of what they can do. They can self-organise beautifully.
The embryos probably could not have grown into mice. Nonetheless, they are a sign that soon we could have mammals born with no egg in any respect.
Embryologists would like to study how the cells of the early embryo start to take on their technical roles. The next step, is to create an artificial embryo from human stem cells, work that is being pursued at the University of Michigan and Rockefeller University.
Synthetic human embryos are a boon to scientists, allowing them to tease apart events early in evolution. And since such embryos begin with easily manipulated stem cells, labs will have the ability to employ a complete variety of tools, such as gene editing, to research them as they develop.
What if they turn out to be indistinguishable from actual embryos? How long can they be grown in the laboratory before they feel pain? We need to address those questions ahead of the science races ahead much further.