Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Your first hug: how the early embryo changes shape

Video showing how the early embryo changes shape will help selection of embryos for IVF.

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When you were an embryo, just 8-cells large, your eight roundish cells did something they had never done before – something that would determine whether you survived or failed. They changed their shape.

The cells became elongated and compacted against each other, before returning to their rounded shape and dividing again and again.

It may seem simple enough, but this shaping process of cell elongation and compaction is essential for embryo success. When compaction does not occur, embryos tend not to survive. And the timing of compaction has been linked to success in IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatments.

But how did these young, seemingly featureless cells undertake this vital shaping process?

Dr Nicolas Plachta and his team have found a new mechanism controlling the process. The EMBL Australia research team based at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University used live imaging technology and microinjected fluorescent markers to capture the action in vivid images and video. The study used mouse embryos as a model for mammals including humans.

“Our images reveal arm-like structures called filopodia appearing on the outer membrane of approximately half of the cells during the 8-cell stage, and it is these filopodia that are responsible for contorting cell shape, and forming the embryo’s first tissue-like layers,”...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.