Multiplying embryos: experimental monozygotic polyembryony in mammals and its uses
Published: 16 April 2019
Ellen Casser, Steffen Israel and Michele Boiani*
Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Muenster, Germany
Monozygotic (MZ) polyembryony is a strategy to increase the output of a single zygote, thereby producing more offspring from a limited number of oocytes. However, MZ twins and multiples (multiplets) of mammals occur rarely in nature, while their generation has been more successful experimentally. In this work, we review some of the methodological, biological and field aspects of experimental MZ polyembryony in mammals. First attempts of mechanical bisection of 2-cell stage rodent embryos provided a proof-of-principle for the survival and independent development of both blastomeres. Subsequently, experiments in other species, particularly sheep and bovine, allowed 2 methods of embryo multiplication to become routine: the separation or biopsy of blastomeres from cleavage-stage embryos and the bisection of morulae and blastocysts. We discuss how the preferable stage of bisection and the success rate can be species-specific. The scope that profited most from experimental MZ polyembryony is the production of additional copies of elite livestock individuals, the reduction of interindividual variation in test groups and the possibility of investigating discordant phenotypic traits in the same genomic background, for instance, comparing an affected twin with its healthy co-twin. By contrast, the original motivation for experimental polyembryony – efficiently generating more offspring out of the same zygote – has not been fulfilled yet. Although embryo splitting leads to an increase in quantity, there is a loss of embryo quality, thus, there is no real gain from artificially generated embryos (yet) in the field of medically assisted reproduction. In conclusion, mammalian zygotes have the regulative capacity to be polyembryonic, but this is not obligate.