Challenge to Nature - Growing and Observing Embryonic Development in the Lab

Category Science

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Independent teams of researchers have been able to advance their success in growing monkey embryos in the lab whereby they were able to witness the growth and development of vital organs, cells, and tissues under a microscope. This breakthrough in embryo research opens new doors to understanding the formation of organs in three dimensions. However, the development was only allowed up to day 25 where the embryos need to be implanted in the uterus for further growth and survivability.

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Independent teams of researchers have now been able to successfully grow monkey embryos in the lab to the point where the process of formation of organs begins and can be witnessed under a microscope. The research achievement can help us improve our understanding of the formation of organs in three dimensions.

Although we have mastered the technique of in-vitro fertilization, continuing the growth of the embryo beyond a certain point in the lab has proven difficult. In the past, when researchers tried to grow embryos outside the uterus, the embryos collapsed into a mixed bag of cells, making it unfeasible to carry out further studies on understanding their development.

The “3D vial” method is a major breakthrough in embryogenesis research.

Unless these embryos were implanted in the wombs, their chances of survival were nil.

--- Growing embryos in 3D --- .

To overcome this hurdle, the researchers changed the container in which the embryos were grown. Instead of using the regular Petri dishes, which allow two-dimension growth, the researchers planted embryos in small vials that allowed growth in three dimensions, just like they would inside a womb.

Embryos were grown in laboratories for 25 days after fertilization.

Independent research teams that were working on this problem, managed to grow the monkey embryos in the laboratory, for a period of 25 days after fertilization. There is no record of embryos having survived thus far in a laboratory setup.

Along with achieving improved survivability, the researchers were also able to see the growth and development happening inside. Hongmei Wang, a developmental biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and her team in Beijing saw that the embryos had developed an embryonic disk.

Researchers used two different types of cell cultures to provide the mechanical support needed to the cells for 3D growth.

Consisting of a flat mass of cells, the disk eventually leads to the formation of the three layers of cells of the body, the endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. Genetic features of the monkeys were also similar to those of natural monkey embryos, a Nature report said.

By day 20, Wang’s team also noticed the development of the neural plate, the earliest sign of the nervous system, which then leads to the formation of the brain and the spine.

In the past successful embryo growth outside the uterus was impossible.

Tao Tan, a developmental biologist at the Kunming University of Science and Technology in Yunnan, China used two types of cell culture to provide the mechanical support needed for the cells to grow in 3D. Tan and his team found that some of the mesoderm- the middle layers of cells in the body, had developed into heart muscle cells.

Additionally, Tan’s team also saw their embryos exhibiting cells of the lymphatic system and that blood cells and their components had started developing in the yolk sac.

The embryonic disk, neural plate, heart muscle cells, lymphatic system cells and blood cells were all observed in developing embryos.

These are major achievements when it comes to growing embryos outside the womb but are a long way from replicating the growth all the way through gestation.

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