Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Right First Time

The first cell division in embryo development is slow and error-prone

07 September 2020

Right First Time

We all make mistakes in our lives. But making mistakes at the very earliest stages of life, when an embryo is just a few cells, can have a devastating impact. Problems with cell division during these crucial first days can lead to embryo cells ending up with the wrong amount of genetic material (chromosomes), leading to infertility, miscarriage or birth defects. To understand more about what’s going on, researchers have developed a technique to spy on these very early cell divisions in human embryos donated by women undergoing fertility treatment. They’ve discovered that the first cell division, when a fertilised egg splits from one cell into two (shown here), can take several hours to complete and often goes wrong. However, the second division from two cells to four is much more accurate, suggesting that getting the very first cell division right is probably the most crucial moment of our lives.

Written by Kat Arney

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