Scientists watch birds grow through transparent eggs

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

If you’ve ever watched to watch an avian embryo slowly form into a baby bird, researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing have a breakthrough for you – artificial, see-through eggs that let them look through the shell and monitor every aspect of the offspring’s development.

The authors of that study, Professor Liu Jing and graduate student Lai Yiyu from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tsinghua University’s School of Medicine, devised what is known as the polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) “soft” process method that allows them to craft a see-through shell that matches the shape of an actual eggshell.

The method is safer than alternative processes that poke holes in eggs, and it gives scientists a more complete look at embryonic development, according to Engadget. The artificial eggs are near-perfect copies of the real deal.

While the website notes that the see-through shells “are more than a little eerie,” they do show the developing bird “a relatively natural environment” that is easier for researchers to study in a lab. Since the shell is transparent, scientists can monitor the embryo’s development, better understanding life processes and the effects of rare genes.

According to the Washington Post, no living birds were hatched from this so-called “egg-on-a-chip” technology. However, they did manage to grow the embryos for over 17 days, publishing their results last month in the journal Science China: Technological Sciences.

They conducted experiments over the course of approximately two years, fabricating a series of transparent PDMS eggshells that allowed them to culture embryos for up to 17.5 days. The shells were used to successfully initiate X-stage embryos, and the combination of the high level of transparency helped provide them with a new platform to study functional embryo development.

The egg-on-a-chip has practical applications as well, the study authors point out in a statement. Blood or other bodily fluids could be injected into the egg to help with early diagnosis, as these eggs could potentially serve as amplification systems that could allow scientists to discover and verify rare genetic variations with greater reliability than other biological systems.

The researchers claim that their see-through eggs could become a biologically-based diagnostic tool that surpasses most other, similar types of technology currently in use. They added that rare variations cultured in the eggs could replace more difficult and expensive laboratory procedures currently in use, which would be the primary practical use of the egg-on-a-chip technology.

“With both high optical transparency and engineering subtlety fully integrated together, the present method not only provides an ideal transparent imaging platform for studying functional embryo development including life mystery, but also promises a future strategy for ‘lab-on-an-egg’ technology which may be important in a wide variety of either fundamental or practical areas,” wrote Jing and Yiyu.

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