Scientists have created the world’s first lab-grown “synthetic embryo,” a groundbreaking moment in science that has reignited a fierce ethical debate.
Led by molecular geneticist Joseph Hanna, a team of researchers from Israel’s Wizemann Institute of Science managed to create a synthetic mouse “embryo” in a laboratory without fertilized eggs or a uterus, potentially giving us a glimpse of what happens in the early stages. . of human pregnancy as well.
This new embryo model, as detailed in the team’s report article published this week In the diary cellwas able to mimic all the components of a primitive body, “including the precursors of the heart, blood, brain, and other organs,” as well as “the ‘support’ cells such as those found in the placenta and other tissues necessary to establish and sustain a pregnancy,” as Megan Munsie, a stem cell researcher at the University of Melbourne, who was not involved in the research, wrote in a piece for The conversation.
The research could have important implications.
“This is a crucial stage: In humans, many pregnancies are lost around this stage and we really don’t know why,” Munsie wrote. “Having models provides a way to better understand what can go wrong and possibly insights into what we can do about it.”
However, the embryo model only survived eight of the 20 days of the mouse embryo cycle, a fundamental drawback that, given the stated objective of Renewal Biothe company founded by Hanna to commercially finance this research.
The goal of the startup is develop synthetic human stem cells in an attempt to “solve” human health crises, a science that experts say won’t be ready for decades.
In short, Bio Renewal wants to create embryonic-stage versions of humans so they can harvest tissue for transplants.
critics who talked with MIT Technology Review said that this was not the time to talk about the creation of synthetic human embryos, especially given the greater political context and the controversy surrounding the research.
“It’s not absolutely necessary,” Nicolas Rivron, a stem cell scientist at the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, told the magazine, “so why would you do it?”
Nor is he alone in his criticism.
“Synthetic human embryos are not an immediate prospect,” James Briscoe of the Francis Crick Institute in London. saying The Guardian in response to the new research.
“We know less about human embryos than we do about mouse embryos, and the inefficiency of synthetic mouse embryos suggests that translating the findings to humans requires further development,” he added.
It seems that regardless of where researchers stand on the subject, most agree that it’s too early to start talking seriously about the ethics of synthetic human embryos, but it’s a big step forward nonetheless.
READ MORE: This startup wants to copy you into an embryo for organ harvesting [MIT Technology Review]
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