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Research tools and techniques poised to impact science

In a Nature technology feature by Michael Eisenstein, Seven technologies to watch in 2023, Nature highlights the top tools and techniques that are believed will have an “outsized impact” on science in the coming year. Included in this list is NOMIS Awardee Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’s in vitro embryo models and tools such as CRISPR, which are being developed and used by many NOMIS researchers in their work. An excerpt of the feature discussing Zernicka-Goetz’s research follows:

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and her team demonstrated how to make synthetic embryos in the laboratory (bottom) that resemble natural, eight-day-old embryos (top). (Photo: Gianluca Amadei, Charlotte Handford)

In vitro embryo models

The journey from fertilized ovum to fully formed embryo has been mapped in detail at the cellular level for mice and humans. But the molecular machinery driving the early stages of this process remains poorly understood. Now a flurry of activity in ‘embryoid’ models is helping to fill these knowledge gaps, giving researchers a clearer view of the vital early events that can determine the success or failure of fetal development.

Some of the most sophisticated models come from the lab of Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a developmental biologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the University of Cambridge, UK. In 2022, she and her team demonstrated that they could generate implantation-stage mouse embryos entirely from embryonic stem (ES) cells.

Like all pluripotent stem cells, ES cells can form any cell or tissue type — but they require close interaction with two types of extra-embryonic cell to complete normal embryonic development. The Zernicka-Goetz team learnt how to coax ES cells into forming these extra-embryonic cells, and showed that these could be co-cultured with ES cells to yield embryo models that mature to stages that were previously unattainable in vitro. “It’s as faithful as you can imagine an embryonic model,” says Zernicka-Goetz. “It develops a head and heart — and it’s beating.” Her team was able to use this model to reveal how alterations in individual genes can derail normal embryonic development.

Continue reading this Nature feature: Seven technologies to watch in 2023


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