Barcodes Before Birth?

Scientists from Spain’s Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and their colleagues from the Spanish National Research Council, have successfully developed an identification system with barcoded embryos. Scientists physically tagged mouse embryos and oocytes (egg cells) with microsopic, silicon barcode labels in order to streamline in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures.

The barcode labels, which are biologically innocuous, are microinjected into the region between the cell membrane and the zona pellucida of the mouse embryo and since the embryo exits the zona pellucida before entering the uterus, the barcode would be shed at that point.

In lab studies, labeled embryos were shown to develop normally up until the last stage preceding implantation. Researchers also studied how well the barcode labels stayed on throughout the development cycle, how easily they could be read with a standard microscope, how they could be eliminated after the shedding of the zona pellucida and how well they could stand up to the freezing and thawing of their host embryo.

There were some minor problems with embryos being able to separate themselves from the label, so scientists are also looking to modify the surface of the barcode label so they can be mounted on the outside of the embryo covering, rather than being injected. In addition, they are testing an automated barcode reading system.

Their tests have been so successful that the Government of Catalonia’s Department of Health for UAB has granted permission to begin testing with human oocytes and embryos from several fertility clinics throughout Spain.

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