Chinese scientists have created embryo-like structures from monkey embryonic stem cells, according to a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. The study marks the first time that researchers have been able to create such structures from non-human primate cells.

The scientists used macaque embryonic stem cells, which they exposed to various growth factors in cell culture. This induced the stem cells to form blastoids, which are embryo-like structures with features similar to natural blastocysts.

As the blastoids further developed, they formed arrangements similar to the amnion and yolk sac, and began to form the types of cells that make up the three germ layers of the body. The researchers found that the different types of cells in the structures had similar gene expression patterns to cells found in natural blastocysts and embryos.

The blastoids were then transferred into the uteruses of female monkeys, where three out of eight implanted and elicited a hormonal response similar to pregnancy. The structures also formed early gestation sacs, but did not develop into fetuses and disappeared after about a week.

The researchers hope that studying these embryo-like structures will deepen their understanding of human embryonic development and provide new tools for exploring primate embryos and reproductive medical health.

“These blastoids are very different from natural embryos and cannot fully develop,” the researchers noted, acknowledging ethical concerns surrounding their research.

The development of embryo-like structures from monkey embryonic stem cells provides a useful model for future study, said Fan Zhou of Tsinghua University, one of the co-corresponding authors of the study.

“Further application of monkey blastoids can help to dissect the molecular mechanisms of primate embryonic development,” Zhou said.

The study was supported by various organizations, including the National Key Research and Development Program of China and the Basic Frontier Scientific Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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