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Scientists grow human embryo using stem cells

Date: 13 June 2020 Tags: Biotechnology

Issue

British scientists have grown a human “embryo” in a lab using just stem cells. This will let them study the first stages of life to reveal causes of birth defects and infertility.

 

Background

The lab created “baby blueprint” closely resembles a three-week old human embryo but it lacks cells needed to form a brain.

 

Details

  • It can never be successfully implanted so allows researchers to avoid rules on such experiments. It is illegal to let donated embryos develop beyond 14 days.

  • The layout of humans,  known as the body plan, happens through a process known as gastrulation, where three distinct layers of cells are formed in the embryo that will later give rise to the body's three main systems: nervous, musculoskeletal and digestive.

  • The advance is the first time scientists have been able to directly study human development at around three weeks, referred to as the “black box” period because they have been unable to study it before.

  • Many birth defects happen during this period, and a better understanding of gastrulation could aid our understanding of issues such as infertility, miscarriage and genetic disorders.

  • To create the three-dimensional models, known as gastruloids, the team collected tight bundles of human cells and treated them with chemicals that acted as signals to activate certain genes.

  • The scientists stressed that gastruloids never develop into fully formed embryos because they have no brain cells and lack any of the tissues for implantation in the womb.

  • Nevertheless they were able to observe around 72 hours of the models' development and identify clear signs of the events that lead to the formation of muscles, bone and cartilage.

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