Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

In 2017 we celebrated five years of bringing you beautiful imagery from biomedical science

10 January 2013

Splitting Heirs

Each of these boxes holds the early signs of new human life. The video shows blastomeres – the cells formed from a fertilized egg – dividing at first into two cells, then two into four. Cell division at this delicate stage must be precise: the DNA received just hours ago from mother and father must be split equally between dividing cells. Unequal division, known as aneuploidy, can lead to birth defects or diseases in later life. DNA inside some of these blastomeres is breaking off into unequal fragments (see the troubled blastomere in the centre of the bottom row). The overlaid coloured spots show a computer program scanning the blastomeres for such fragments – effectively screening for ‘faulty’ embryos. Knowing which embryos are likely to develop healthily prior to injection into the uterus could increase the success of future IVF treatments and decrease the risk of miscarriage during pregnancy.

Written by John Ankers

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