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Scientists Take Step Toward Creating Artificial Embryos

Experts said the results suggested human embryos could be created in a similar way in future — a step that would allow scientists to use artificial embryos rather than real ones to research the very earliest stages of human development

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FILE - An embryologist demonstrates fertilization techniques at a clinic in New York, Oct. 3, 2013. In work published Monday, scientists moved closer to creating artificial embryos. (VOA)
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An international team of scientists has moved closer to creating artificial embryos after using mouse stem cells to make structures capable of taking a crucial step in the development of life.

Experts said the results suggested human embryos could be created in a similar way in future — a step that would allow scientists to use artificial embryos rather than real ones to research the very earliest stages of human development.

The team, led by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a professor at Britain’s Cambridge University, had previously created a simpler structure resembling a mouse embryo in a lab dish. That work involved two types of stem cells and a three-dimensional scaffold on which they could grow.

But in new work published Monday in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the scientists developed the structures further — using three types of stem cells — enabling a process called gastrulation, an essential step in which embryonic cells begin self-organizing into a correct structure for an embryo to form.

“Our artificial embryos underwent the most important event in life in the culture dish,” Zernicka-Goetz said in a statement about the work. “They are now extremely close to real embryos.”

embryo-cells
The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that scientists know very little about.

She said the team should now be better able to understand how the three stem cell types interact to enable embryo development. And by experimentally altering biological pathways in one cell type, they should be able to see how this affects the behavior of the other cell types.

“The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that we know very little about,” said Zernicka-Goetz.

“Now we have a way of simulating embryonic development in the culture dish, so it should be possible to understand exactly what is going on during this remarkable period in an embryo’s life, and why sometimes this process fails.”

Also Read: Scientists in US Successfully Edit Genes of Human Embryos in the First Attempt

Christophe Galichet, a senior research scientist at Britain’s Francis Crick Institute who was not directly involved in this work, agreed that the results held promise.

“While [this study] did not use human stem cells, it is not too far-fetched to think the technique could one day be applied to studying early human embryos,” he said in an emailed comment. “These self-assembled human embryos would be an invaluable tool to understand early human development.” (VOA)

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Old Dusty Kilogram Swapped for Something More Stable: Scientists

It has taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

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Kilogram
The International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK) is pictured in Paris, France, in this undated photo obtained from social media. VOA

After years of nursing a sometimes dusty cylinder of metal in a vault outside Paris as the global reference for modern mass, scientists are updating the definition of the kilogram.

Just as the redefinition of the second in 1967 helped to ease communication across the world via technologies like GPS and the internet, experts say the change in the kilogram will be better for technology, retail and health — though it probably won’t change the price of fish much.

The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris. All modern mass measurements are traceable back to it — from micrograms of pharmaceutical medicines to kilos of apples and pears and tons of steel or cement.

kilogram, weight
Border Security Force officials showing 17 kilogram heroine.

The problem is, the “international prototype kilogram” doesn’t always weigh the same. Even inside its three glass bell jars, it gets dusty and dirty, and is affected by the atmosphere. Sometimes, it really needs a wash.

“We live in a modern world. There are pollutants in the atmosphere that can stick to the mass,” said Ian Robinson, a specialist in the engineering, materials and electrical science department at Britain’s National Physical Laboratory.

“So when you just get it out of the vault, it’s slightly dirty. But the whole process of cleaning or handling or using the mass can change its mass. So it’s not the best way, perhaps, of defining mass.”

What’s needed is something more constant.

kilogram, weight
The Kilogram. Flickr

So, at the end of a week-long meeting in the Palace of Versailles, Paris, the world’s leading measurement aficionados at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures will vote Friday to make an “electronic kilogram” the new baseline measure of mass.

Just as the meter — once the length of a bar of platinum-iridium, also kept in Paris — is now defined by the constant speed of light in a vacuum, so a kilogram will be defined by a tiny but immutable fundamental value called the “Planck constant.”

The new definition involves an apparatus called the Kibble balance, which makes use of the constant to measure the mass of an object using a precisely measured electromagnetic force.

Paris,diesel,kilogram, weight
The kilogram has been defined since 1889 by a shiny piece of platinum-iridium held in Paris.VOA

“In the present system, you have to relate small masses to large masses by subdivision. That’s very difficult — and the uncertainties build up very, very quickly,” Robinson said.

“One of the things this [new] technique allows us to do is to actually measure mass directly at whatever scale we like, and that’s a big step forward.”

Also Read: NASA to Send Organ-on-Chips to Test Human Tissue Health in Space

He said it had taken years of work to fine-tune the new definition to ensure the switchover will be smooth.

But while the extra accuracy will be a boon to scientists, Robinson said that, for the average consumer buying flour or bananas, “there will be absolutely no change whatsoever.” (VOA)