They believe it “holds huge potential” to help understand causes of genetic birth defects and infertility and develop tests for pregnant women.
The Cambridge university research enables scientists to examine what occurs in the largely unknown “black box development” period of embryos between 14 and 21 days.
Ethical and legal restrictions prevent embryos being developed in the lab beyond day 14, forcing scientists to rely on mouse embryos, which have limitations for understanding human development.
The embryo-like “gastruloid” model does not have brain cells and is not capable of being implanted into the womb and developing into a baby.
But it resembles some key elements of an embryo at about 18-21 days, showing the processes underlying the formation of the human body plan, or blueprint, never directly observed before.
The body plan happens via a process called “gastrulation”, when three distinct layers of cells are formed in the embryo that will later give rise to the body’s major systems: the ectoderm will make the nervous system, mesoderm the muscles, and endoderm the gut.