By using stem cells on a Petri dish in the laboratory with 3D scaffolding, scientists have been able to make an embryo. This artificial embryo is an effort to create an embryo which is like the natural embryo. This can be a major breakthrough in solving the fertility issue.
THE BEGINNING OF SYNTHETIC EMBRYOLOGY
Yue Shao had been working on creating embryonic stem cells since two years. He experimented with the stem cells, grew them in soft gels to find a neural tissue. Even though he is a mechanical engineer, his passion for biology made him experiment with the embryonic stem cells.
He got fascinated by the pace at which the cells changed and arranged themselves into a lopsided circle. The rate was much faster than expected. He searched on the internet to understand more about the structure of the cells and found that it resembled a human embryo of ten days after implantation. The resemblance was striking enough- formation of amniotic sac containing the embryo.
Along with her team, Shao got to know that the cells needed a heart, placenta and brain to become a person. This breakthrough further helped the scientists in creating cells that could look like intestine, brain or lungs.
Cambridge researchers could even replicate the embryo of a six-day-old mouse by fusion of two varied stem cells. This field is now emerging as a new field altogether- synthetic embryology which lays its focus on understanding human development.
THE PROBLEMS FACED WITH HUMAN EMBRYO
There are a lot of limitations posed with human embryo since the human embryo can’t grow after a week in artificial conditions and science hasn’t been able to decipher the conditions accessible to the embryo in the uterus. The funding laws and abortion politics put up a restriction on the research of human embryo.
The synthetic embryo is a great alternative to all this. These can be used for testing drugs, finding what causes birth defects, manufacture base for artificial organs, increase fertility etc.
BIOETHICS AND SYNTHETIC EMBRYO
There is an ethical and political debate going on about the synthetic embryo. Scientists can’t answer the organism growing on the petri dish. There are many people who don’t like the prospect of artificial embryo due to its connection with designer babies. Under Dickey-Wicker Amendment, the United States has banned using federal money for research on embryos of any sort.
The scientists argue that owing to the engineering process, the embryos are not organisms and hence can be used for scientific purposes. The vision of synthetic embryology is to yield functional organs for damage control.