Scientists attach barcodes to mouse embryos — human ones coming soon
November 26, 2010
Scientists from Spain’s Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), along with colleagues from the Spanish National Research Council, have successfully developed an identification system in which mouse embryos and oocytes (egg cells) are physically tagged with microscopic silicon bar code labels. They expect to try it out on human embryos and oocytes soon.
The purpose of the system is to streamline in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. If egg cells and embryos can be quickly and easily identified, then things should run much smoother, and success rates should be higher.
The research, published online in Human Reproduction, represents a first step towards designing a direct labeling system of oocytes and embryos. The objective was to develop a system that minimizes risks when identifying female gametes and embryos during in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures, to reduce the phases of the clinical process requiring control and supervision by two embryologists.
Microscopic silicon codes, fabricated using microelectronic techniques, were employed in the research. In previous tests, researchers verified the innocuousness of silicon particles in human cells, particularly in macrophages. In the present study, the codes were microinjected into the perivitelline space of mouse embryos, located between the cell membrane and the zona pellucida, a cover that surrounds the plasma membrane of the embryo. Since the embryo exits the zona pellucida before its implantation in the uterus, this approximation should allow the embryo to free itself of the identification codes when leaving the zona pellucida.
This research shows that labeled embryos develop normally in culture up to the blastocyst stage, the phase of development which precedes implantation. Researchers also studied the retention of the codes throughout the culture process, the easiness in reading the codes in a standard microscope, and their elimination when embryos free themselves from the zona pellucida. The research also verified the efficacy of the system when freezing and thawing the embryos.
To make the system more viable, researchers are now working on improving the embryo’s process of freeing itself from the identification code. This is the only stage of the research that presented limitations. They are currently studying whether the modification of the codes’ surface could allow their direct attachment to the outer side of the zona pellucida, avoiding their microinjection into the perivitelline space. Theyalsoaim to develop an automatic code reading system.
Researchers recently received authorization from the Department of Health of the Government of Catalonia to begin testing the system with human oocytes and embryos from several fertility clinics in Spain.
Reference article: A Novel Embryo Identification System by Direct Tagging Using Silicon-Based Barcodes. Novo, S., Barrios, L., Santaló, J., Gómez-Martínez, R., Duch, M., Esteve, J., Plaza, J.A., Nogués, C., Ibáñez, E. Human Reproduction. doi:10.1093/humrep/deq309
Adapted from materials provided by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)