Research led by Sidney Fellow Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz has identified key molecular events in the developing human embryo between days 7 and 14 - one of the most mysterious, yet critical, stages of our development.

Researchers at the University have found that a group of cells outside the embryo – known as the hypoblast – trigger the development of its head-to-tail body axis, the first step in the formation of the overall body pattern in humans. 

Professor Zernicka-Goetz, part of the University’s department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, and senior author on the study, said: “Our goal has always been to enable insights to very early human embryo development in a dish, to understand how our lives start. 

“By combining our new technology with advanced sequencing methods we have delved deeper into the key changes that take place at this incredible stage of human development, when so many pregnancies unfortunately fail.”

The team have discovered that the hypoblast sends a message to the embryo to kick-start the development of the head-to-tail body axis, where one end becomes committed to developing into the “head” end, and the other the “tail”.

The team’s work, which was funded by Wellcome, was carried out with the oversight of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

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