Synthetic embryos — those two words just don’t seem to go together, do they? Two recent reports in the journals Cell and Nature describe research that has done just that. Both groups started with single cells and provided the right conditions to stimulate the cells to grow into embryos. These studies were both performed with mouse cells and produced mouse embryos in the lab. While these embryos only developed for eight days, this represents about half the time to full development for normal mouse babies in a pregnant mouse. Think of the sinister company in the Alien series growing replicates of the heroine Ripley in the lab!

The groups used similar approaches to each other with comparable results, but they each used different cells. One approach used stem cells that were manipulated into what is called a naïve state. This means that the cells would be capable of growing into any cell in a mouse body. From the naïve state, specific genes in one set of cells were switched on that would allow them to form the placenta. Another set of the same cells were treated to form the yolk sac that provides nutrition to the early developing embryo. The third set of cells were those that formed the embryo.

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at


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