Fans of the film Blade Runner may remember a scene in which the maker of an artificial snake is identified by a microscopic serial number on one of its scales.
Well, in a rare case of present-day technology actually surpassing that predicted in a movie, we’ve now gone one better – bar codes on embryos. Scientists from Spain’s Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), along with colleagues from the Spanish National Research Council, have successfully developed an identification system in which mouse embryos and oocytes (egg cells) are physically tagged with microscopic silicon bar code labels. They expect to try it out on human embryos and oocytes soon.
The purpose of the system is to streamline in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. If egg cells and embryos can be quickly and easily identified, then things should run much smoother, and success rates should be higher.
The labels, which had been declared biologically innocuous in an earlier study, are microinjected into the perivitelline space of mouse embryos – the perivitelline space is a region between the cell membrane and the zona pellucida, which is a cover that surrounds the embryo’s plasma membrane. The embryo exits the zona pellucida before entering the uterus, so the bar code would be shed at that point.