A team of researchers from the University of Virginia just made scientific history: They figured out how to turn stem cells into full blown fish embryos. In other words, scientists can now control embryonic development, a key to being able to grow organs and even entire organism from stem cells.
"We have generated an animal by just instructing embryonic cells the right way," said Chris Thisse, who made the discovery with her husband Bernard. She added, "If we know how to instruct embryonic cells, we can pretty much do what we want."
We can do whatever we want?! That's both incredibly exciting and a little bit scary. What's pretty unbelievable about the breakthrough, however, is the fact that controlling embryonic development comes down to just two signals. Previously, the question of how few signals it would take was one of biology's biggest challenges. The researchers now think it's possible to manipulate these signals to direct the formation of organs—a sort of holy grail for the medical field.
Next, the Thisses will attempt to turn stem cells into mouse embryos. And, while they're playing God, the rest of the scientific community will undoubtedly be checking and double checking their work. Fool them once… [Science]
The brain of the vertebrate zebrafish embryo. Though it was a bit smaller than a normal one, the embryo grown from stem cells contained all the right parts to support life.