Embryo architecture, potency and tissue interactions during mouse and human development

Year of award: 2017


  • Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

    University of Cambridge

Project summary

The first weeks of embryo development from a fertilised zygote is a critical period when many pregnancies fail. We aim to relate how changes in embryo architecture go hand in hand with new genetic instructions that give the early embryo its correct anatomy.

We will begin our studies when the embryo comprises only eight cells and first changes its shape, which is important for different cell types to emerge. The embryo next changes its architecture when it implants into the womb and becomes inaccessible. We have developed technology for culturing mouse and human embryos in a dish throughout and beyond implantation (under approved conditions). This will allow us to uncover mechanisms underlying self-organisational properties of the mammalian embryo. We have also established conditions in which stem cells in a dish develop into structures that strongly resemble natural embryos.

We will study previously hidden stages of development to understand how the different cell types interact to shape the body plan. These interactions are prerequisites for a successful pregnancy and we will use our findings to provide insight into the causes of early pregnancy loss.