Artificial Embryos

A breakthrough has redefined how life can be created today. Recently, embryologists working in the UK have been able to grow realistic-looking mouse embryos using only stem cells. That is, without eggs or sperm—just cells plucked from another embryo which provide a whole new route to creating life.

Key players in this research includes; University of Cambridge; University of Michigan; Rockefeller University.

Why It Matters

Researchers have proved that these artificial embryos will make it easier for them to study the mysterious beginnings of a human life, but they’re stoking new bioethical debates.

They placed the cells carefully in a three-dimensional scaffold and watched, fascinated, as they started communicating and lining up into the distinctive bullet shape of a mouse embryo several days old.

According to a post by Antonio Regalado, Magdalena Zernicka who headed the time told an interviewer, “We know that stem cells are magical in their powerful potential of what they can do. We did not realize they could self-organize so beautifully or perfectly.”

Zernicka-Goetz said her “synthetic” embryos probably couldn't have grown into mice. Nevertheless, they’re a hint that soon we could have mammals born without an egg at all.

She further claimed she wanted to study how the cells of an early embryo begin taking on their specialized roles. The next step, would be to make an artificial embryo out of human stem cells.

These synthetic human embryos would be a boon to scientists and would let them tease apart events early in development. And since such embryos start with easily manipulated stem cells, labs will be able to employ a full range of tools, such as gene editing, to investigate them as they grow.

Artificial embryos, however, pose ethical questions. What if they turn out to be indistinguishable from real embryos? How long can they be grown in the lab before they feel pain? We would need to address those questions before the science races ahead much further, bioethicists say.