A three-dimensional animation offers the most conclusive ever insight into the first two months of a human embryo’s development.
The project, created by embryology experts at the University of Amsterdam, incorporates data from 15,000 tissue section samples – some of which date back 100 years.
Aided by 75 researchers, lead author Bernadette de Bakker identified around 150 organs and structures.
They identified the position of each organ, how they change position, and how it differs to a mouse or chicken embryo.
The study, published in the latest edition of the journal Science, is one of the biggest steps in embryology research for years.
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This is a screenshot of the first ever interactive 3D map of a human embryo
The project by a University of Amsterdam team involved analyzing 15,000 tissue samples
Beyond collating years of insight into human development, it helps establish clear distinctions from other species, which are often used in scientific experiments to study human embryo development.
‘Everyone thinks we already know this, but I believe we know more about the moon than about our own development,’ de Bakker told The Guardian.
Prior to this study, our understanding of embryology has largely been spread across text books – some published as long ago as 1910.
Most diagrams in said textbooks are from the 1930s, de Bakker explained.
In fact, any updated images tend to be the same diagram, just with a few tweaks.
And many illustrations are in fact of mouse or chick embryos.
The researchers identified the position of each organ, how they change position
Crucially, they identified how a human embryo development differs to a mouse or chicken’s
Prior to this study, our understanding of embryology has largely been spread across text books – some published as long ago as 1910
Lead author Bernadette de Bakker told The Guardian she believes we know more about the moon than human development
De Bakker identified around 150 organs and structures in her research
To comprehend the relative mess of embryology archives, de Bakker’s team analyzed 15,000 stained samples from the US Carnegie Collection.
They then collated it all into an interactive three-dimensional graphic, which can be viewed on the 3D Atlas of Human Embryology website, available on Microsoft Windows and Mac.
‘We discovered that some organs in humans develop earlier than they first arrive in chick or mouse embryos and some [develop far] later,’ de Bakker told The Guardian.
She added: ‘It is a beautifully careful assessment of development through analysis of material with limited availability.
‘It will provide an invaluable atlas to guide future study.’