What you’re seeing here is a human embryo,
about one day after fertilization. Every one of us started out this way, as a single cell
dividing into two cells, then three, four, and more.
But it takes nature a lot of trial and error to go from this… to this. Only a few embryos
– about one in three – have a genetic makeup that’s good enough to let them to
grow into a baby. Scientists don’t know why, but we humans are some of the least fertile
mammals around. Not long ago, when Stanford University scientists
made this time-lapse video of developing embryos, they noticed something no one had ever seen
before. Up til then, researchers thought that embryos
could grow at many different rates and still be healthy. But they discovered that viable
embryos actually follow a pattern, a precise embryonic clock.
This has huge implications for patients going through in vitro fertilization, for whom each
embryo, carefully cultivated in the lab before it’s transferred into a woman, is an embodiment
of hope. For patients like Laura and Alex Ibanez the
question is: Which of their embryos can become a baby? The stakes are high: transfer too many healthy embryos and you could end up with a risky
twin or triplet pregnancy. Transfer too few and patients might not have a baby at all. So what if embryologists could make more accurate predictions? A company in Menlo Park wants to make that possible. They film the embryos with a tiny camera inside the incubator. A computer algorithm automatically
tracks the development of each embryo. A new ring means the computer has picked up on a new cell division. Embryos that go from two to three cells in
9 to 11 hours, and then from three to four cells in under two hours, have the best chance
of making it to day five – a critical milestone. Because on Day 5, the embryo gets ready to
break out of its shell and attach to the uterus. This test was cleared by the FDA last year.
Today it’s in more than 30 clinics. You often hear life described as a miracle.
And it seems even more wondrous, now that we’ve coaxed nature into revealing some
of its secrets, to give us a glimpse into how it all begins.