Press Release

18.11.2021

A milestone for developmental biology - Scientists publish the first single-transcriptome of a human gastrulation embryo

For the first time, scientists based at Helmholtz Munich and the University of Oxford were able to shed light on one of the most critical stages of human embryonic development (gastrulation). Their findings were published in the journal Nature. studies to unravel the secrets of human development.

Human Gastrulation ©Shankar Srivinas

Gastrulation belongs to the most critical stages of early embryonic development, which takes place between days 14 and 21 after fertilization. Thus far, our understanding of human gastrulation is very little. Samples at these stages are extremely rare and researchers can only legally culture human embryos up to the equivalent of 14 days after fertilization.  As a consequence, our current knowledge is mostly based on findings from model systems, such as mouse or chicken, or cell culture-based models for human embryos. However, the applicability could not been validated due to the lack of suitable in vivo studies.

The research team ethically obtained through the Human Developmental Biology Resource a human embryo at the gastrulation stage from a donor, who generously provided informed consent for the use in research of embryonic material arising from the termination of her pregnancy. To gain the most information from such a precious sample, the team of researchers applied single-cell RNA-sequencing. In doing so, they were able to characterize for the first time the gene expression patterns of the different cells from the embryo. Prior publication, the researchers made the data available over an open access website to the research community around the world, which allows an interactive exploration of these data (http://www.human-gastrula.net).

Further information

Tyser et al., 2021: Single-cell transcriptomic characterization of a gastrulating human embryo. Nature, DOI: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00195-9.