Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have created artificial mouse embryos for the first time. These early structures possess functional tissues and organs, such as the brain, heart, and intestinal system.
This historic feat was achieved without the need for fertilized eggs, and only by using embryonic stem cells from rodents. They were ‘grown’ for more than a week (roughly half of the animal’s gestation time) in an artificial womb – created by the same team – allowing the fetus to grow outside of a natural environment.
Of the total number of stem cells used, only 0.5% were able to create artificial embryos.
According to the team, led by molecular geneticist Jacob Hanna, the artificial embryos are 95% similar to natural ones, in their internal structure, tissues and organs, and the genetic profiles of cells, detailed in an article Cell Journal.
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However, Hanna says, since these life forms are not “real,” they would not be able to become living animals in the future, because they failed in their attempt after being transplanted into the wombs of female mice.
In the short term, it is hoped that synthetic lab embryos will help scientists understand the complex embryonic development of mammals, including humans.
It could also pave the way for new sources of cells and tissues to become available for human culture. For example, skin cells from a leukemia patient can be converted into bone marrow stem cells to treat his disease.