Scientists create artificial mouse embryo from stem cells

Researchers have used stem cells to artificially create a structure that resembles a mouse embryo for the first time.

A stem-cell modelled mouse embryo at 100 hours

Credit: Berna Sozen-Kaya, Zernicka-Goetz Lab, University of Cambridge

Stem cell-modelled mouse embryo at 100 hours. The red part is embryonic, the blue is extra-embryonic and the green shows mesoderm induction.

The structure will help scientists study the very earliest stages of development more easily. Better understanding of this could shed light on why a significant number of pregnancies fail early on in development.

The artificial ‘embryo’ consists of two different types of stem cells – embryonic stem cells that will eventually make the body, and trophoblast stem cells which form the placenta. They were grown on a 3D structure for support.

The technique allows the different cell types to communicate well with each other for the first time.

The cells became organised into a structure that both looked and behaved like an embryo, with anatomically correct regions developing at the right time and in the right place.  

The structure will also help to overcome a shortage of embryos, one of the main barriers to embryo research. But it is unlikely that these mouse ‘embryos’ could develop into a healthy foetus. The structure would need a third type of stem cell that would allow a yolk sac to develop.

"This is an elegant study creating a mouse embryo in culture that gives us a glimpse into the very earliest stages of mammalian development," says Dr Andrew Chisholm, Wellcome's Head of Cellular and Developmental Science. "Professor Zernicka-Goetz’s work really shows the importance of basic research in helping us to solve difficult problems for which we don’t have enough evidence yet."

This research is published in Science.