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Mammalian Embryo and Stem Cell Group

The Dance of Life: Symmetry, Cells and How we Become Human

A new book by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Roger Highfield came out in March 2020. A moving celebration of the balletic beauty of life's beginnings.


The Dance of Life will take you inside the incredible world of life just as it begins and reveals the wonder of the earliest and most profound moments in how we become human. Through Magda's trailblazing research as a professor at Cambridge you'll learn how early life starts to take shape and discover the true beauty of life's beginnings.

Further details here:

Praise and Reviews for The Dance of Life

"Quite simply the best book about science and life that I have ever read."

Professor Alice Roberts

These are two embryos at the blastocyst stage, 5 days after fertilization. Different color dyes mark various cell types in the blastocysts. 3D confocal microscope image collected in MagdaZernicka-Goetz lab by Berna Sozen and Wonder Science process it to give a sense of seeing from inside the hollow embryo cavity. A baby-baby's eye-view!

Magda Zernicka-Goetz and her research team are unveiling new things about early embryonic cells — stem cells are not without bias — actually stem cells have proclivities and will tend to become one sort of cell or another. These proclivities are plastic and can change if need be — in other words yes, they are pluripotent and versatile, but it's not entirely "all the same" to an embryonic stem cell what it becomes.

Produced by Wonder Science. Music by Johnny Woods @johnny_woods.

Basement membrane remodelling regulates mouse embryogenesis
Credit: Christos Kyprianou, Neophytos Christodoulou, Russell S. Hamilton, Wallis Nahaboo, Diana Suarez Boomgaard, Gianluca Amadei, Isabelle Migeotte & Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Our Research

The long-term goal of our work is to understand the development of cell lineages and patterning in the early mammalian embryo.
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Our Funding



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New and Noteworthy

Pluripotent state transitions coordinate morphogenesis in mouse and human embryos. Shahbazi M et al., 2017 Nature Pluripotency regulates mouse and human embryonic morphogenesis: cells in an unrestricted naive pluripotent state (Nanog+, yellow) fail to undergo proper morphogenesis and do not form the amniotic cavity (left). Loss of naive pluripotency (cells lacking Nanog expression) directs morphogenesis and amniotic cavity formation (right).

Self-assembly of embryonic and two extra-embryonic stem cell types into gastrulating embryo-like structures. Sozen B et al., 2018. Nature Cell Biology The remarkable ability of three stem cell types to self-assemble in vitro into gastrulating embryo-like structures (middle) undertaking spatio-temporal events of the gastrulating mammalian embryo (right).

Deconstructing and reconstructing the mouse and human early embryo. Shahbazi, M and Zernicka-Goetz, M. 2018. Nature Cell Biology A timely review on the post-implantation mammalian embryo and how recent technologies have helped to investigate form and function during development. We explore the complex processes of embryogenesis and the multiple regulatory levels involved.

An original series on the Future of Fertility by OZY looks at where science is headed — and who’s leading the charge. Celebrating women in science: a new profile of the work in our lab examines our attempts to solve the mysteries of the embryo. Written by science journalist, Marissa Fessenden. Click here to view the story. Illustration by Zoe Van Dijk.

Organoids and development: A new review published in Science by Marta Shahbazi, Eric Siggia, and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz. Here, we review the principles of self-organization and how they set cells in motion to create an embryo. For full access, click on links below: Abstract: Reprint: Full text:

Deconstructing and reconstructing the mouse early embryo. Sozen et al., 2019; Developmental cell The way the the blastocyst organize itself has profound implications for pregnancy. Our new study shows morphogenetic and transcriptome profiling analyses to reveal how synthetic blastocysts form distinct embryonic-abembryonic axes and primitive endoderm differentiation and can initiate the transition from the pre- to post-implantation egg cylinder morphology in vitro. These studies will help us to better understand the very beginnings of life.