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Science. 2019 Jun 7;364(6444):948-951. doi: 10.1126/science.aax0164.

Self-organization of stem cells into embryos: A window on early mammalian development.

Author information

Mammalian Embryo and Stem Cell Group, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK.
Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065, USA.
Contributed equally


Embryonic development is orchestrated by robust and complex regulatory mechanisms acting at different scales of organization. In vivo studies are particularly challenging for mammals after implantation, owing to the small size and inaccessibility of the embryo. The generation of stem cell models of the embryo represents a powerful system with which to dissect this complexity. Control of geometry, modulation of the physical environment, and priming with chemical signals reveal the intrinsic capacity of embryonic stem cells to make patterns. Adding the stem cells for the extraembryonic lineages generates three-dimensional models that are more autonomous from the environment and recapitulate many features of the pre- and postimplantation mouse embryo, including gastrulation. Here, we review the principles of self-organization and how they set cells in motion to create an embryo.


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