Landmark development as the first complete human embryo model is grown in Petri dish

Written on 03/18/2021

By Ciarán Mather

In a move that could pave the way for safer and more ethical embryo studies, scientists have grown the first ever fully-formed human embryo in a Petri dish.

The research team who conducted the study consisted of a team of  experts from the US and Australia, who used the findings of two previous studies to create the model.

They found that human blastoids emerged after 6–8 days of culture, with a formation efficiency of up to almost 20 per cent.

It was noted that the blastoids had a similar size and shape to the natural blastocysts, as well as a similar total number of cells. 

Professor Thomas Zwaka, who works at the Department of Stem Cell and Developmental Biology in the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, said the availability of an alternative model will reduce the pressure on researchers to use real human embryos in research, which has often been a source of contention.

He explained: 'There are still many unsolved mysteries at this stage of early human development, which lays the foundation for almost all processes, organs and, unfortunately, diseases.' 

'That's why there is an urgent need for a method like blastoids that opens this door a little wider, even if it's not perfect.'

The report did state that the study did have limitations, however: firstly, the development of the blastoids is inefficient and varies depending on the cell lines produced from different donors. 

Secondly, the blastoids also contain unidentified cell populations that are not found in natural human blastocysts.

Lastly, development of the blastoids is also limited in post-implantation stages and the culture and experimentation conditions will be needed to improve post-implantation-stage culturing of human blastoids in vitro up to the equivalent of 14 days in vivo.

The findings have since been published in the British scientific journal Nature.

In related news, the first baby in the world with COVID-19 anti-bodies was recently born to a mother in the US state of Florida.