In 1972, David Whittingham, Stanley Leibo, and Peter Mazur published the paper, “Survival of Mouse Embryos Frozen to -196 ° and -269 °C,” hereafter, “Survival of Mouse Embryos,” in the journal Science. The study marked one of the first times that researchers had successfully cryopreserved, or preserved and stored by freezing, a mammalian embryo and later transferred that embryo to a live mouse who gave birth to viable offspring. Previously, scientists had only been successful cryopreserving single cells, like red blood cells. Mammalian embryos, on the other hand, were more difficult to cryopreserve because they are more complex and therefore more easily weakened or destroyed by the formation of ice within its cells. Whittingham, Leibo, and Mazur’s work provided a successful model for mammalian embryo cryopreservation, a technology that later expanded to cryopreserve more complex embryos, such as human embryos.
Peter Mazur was a researcher in the US who developed new ways of preserving biological material by freezing it, a process called cryopreservation. If done correctly, cryopreservation enables scientists to store or study biological material for an extended period of time. If done incorrectly, cryopreservation can easily harm or destroy biological material. Mazur worked to find the best ways to cryopreserve different cells, embryos, and organs in order to minimize the damage caused by freezing. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mazur and his colleagues published a series of papers that ultimately led to the discovery of previously unexplored factors that can cause harm to cells during the cryopreservation process. He called that discovery the two-factor hypothesis. That same year, Mazur also contributed to one of the first successful attempts at cryopreserving viable mouse embryos. Mazur’s work to improve the cryopreservation process helped to establish foundational knowledge that was later used in many different fields, such as reproductive health and conservation.
Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering, or MAGE, is a genome editing technique that enables scientists to quickly edit an organism’s DNA to produce multiple changes across the genome. In 2009, two genetic researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, Harris Wang and George Church, developed the technology during a time when researchers could only edit one site in an organism’s genome at a time. Wang and Church called MAGE a form of accelerated evolution because it creates different cells with many variations of the same original genome over multiple generations. MAGE made genome editing much faster, cheaper, and easier for genetic researchers to create organisms with novel functions that they can use for a variety of purposes, such as making chemicals and medicine, developing biofuels, or further studying and understanding the genes that can cause harmful mutations in humans.
Revive and Restore is a California-based nonprofit that uses genetic engineering to help solve conservation problems, such as saving endangered species and increasing the biodiversity of ecosystems. To facilitate their solutions, Revive and Restore utilizes genetic engineering, which is the process of making changes to an organism’s DNA, or the set of instructions for how an organism develops and functions. One of their broad solutions is genetic rescue, which involves imbuing populations of endangered species with a wider variety of traits to make them more adaptable to a changing environment. Their other solution is de-extinction, which takes a more radical approach by attempting to recreate extinct species that performed important roles in their ecosystems. While scientists working with Revive and Restore have helped advance genome editing technology on a theoretical and technical level, their research has also prompted practical and ethical concerns over the extent of permissible human interference with nature, even when attempting to conserve it.
Stanley Paul Leibo studied the cryopreservation of embryos in the US in the twentieth century. Cryopreservation is a method of preserving biological material through freezing. Early in his career, Leibo collaborated with other scientists to study why cells were oftentimes injured during freezing. Later, Leibo and his team accomplished one of the first successful births using previously-frozen mammalian embryos. Leibo continued evolving simpler and more reliable methods of cryopreservation and embryo transfer for many different species over the course of his career, such as the development of a one-step procedure of transferring fertilized embryos between cattle. Leibo’s work to develop simple and reliable ways to cryopreserve cells and embryos enabled its use in a wider scope of research, including agriculture, reproductive medicine, and conservation.
In 2015, Revive & Restore launched the Woolly Mammoth Revival Project with a goal of engineering a creature with genes from the woolly mammoth and introducing it back into the tundra to combat climate change. Revive & Restore is a nonprofit in California that uses genome editing technologies to enhance conservation efforts in sometimes controversial ways. In order to de-extinct the woolly mammoth, researchers theorize that they can manipulate the genome of the Asian elephant, which is the mammoth’s closest living evolutionary relative, to make it resemble the genome of the extinct woolly mammoth. While their goal is to create a new elephant-mammoth hybrid species, or a mammophant, that looks and functions like the extinct woolly mammoth, critics have suggested researchers involved in the project have misled and exaggerated the process. As of 2021, researchers have not yet succeeded in their efforts to de-extinct the woolly mammoth, but have expressed that it may become a reality within a decade.
In 1972, Peter Mazur, Stanley Leibo, and Ernest Chu published, “A Two-Factor Hypothesis of Freezing Injury: Evidence from Chinese Hamster Tissue-culture Cells,” hereafter, “A Two-Factor Hypothesis of Freezing Injury,” in the journal, Experimental Cell Research. In the article, the authors uncover that exposure to high salt concentrations and the formation of ice crystals within cells are two factors that can harm cells during cryopreservation. Cryopreservation is the freezing of cells to preserve them for storage, study, or later use. Mazur originally suggested the two factors in a 1970 paper, but that article was based on evidence from simple yeast cells. By using hamster cells in 1972, Mazur, Leibo, and Chu confirmed that Mazur’s two-factor hypothesis applied to more complex mammalian cells. The article dispelled the widely accepted notion that rapid cooling rates were safest for all cells, and instead showed that each kind of cell had a different optimal cooling rate depending on the solution in which it froze.
George McDonald Church studied DNA from living and from extinct species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Church helped to develop and refine techniques with which to describe the complete sequence of all the DNA nucleotides in an organism's genome, techniques such as multiplex sequencing, polony sequencing, and nanopore sequencing. Church also contributed to the Human Genome Project, and in 2005 he helped start a company, the Personal Genome Project. Church proposed to use DNA from extinct species to clone and breed new organisms from those species.
Michael R. Harrison worked as a pediatric surgeon in the US throughout the late-twentieth century and performed many fetal surgeries, including one of the first successful surgeries on a fetus in utero, or while it is still in its gestational carrier’s body, also called open fetal surgery. A fetus is an organism developing inside of the uterus that is anywhere from eight weeks old to birth. Harrison hypothesized that open fetal surgery could correct developmental defects that may become fatal to the fetus at birth. After years of research, Harrison and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, in San Francisco, California, performed surgery on the fetus of a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy to correct the fetus’s developmental defects. The surgery was successful, as the fetus developed into a healthy child. Harrison’s work led to advancements in fetal treatment techniques, such as a method to conduct open fetal surgery that will not harm the fetus or pregnant woman, as well as the establishment of one of the first fetal treatment centers in the US.
In humans, sex determination is the process that determines the biological sex of an offspring and, as a result, the sexual characteristics that they will develop. Humans typically develop as either male or female, primarily depending on the combination of sex chromosomes that they inherit from their parents. The human sex chromosomes, called X and Y, are structures in human cells made up of tightly bound deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and proteins. Those are molecules that contain the instructions for the development and functioning of all life forms, including the development of physical traits and body parts that correspond with each biological sex. Humans who inherit two X chromosomes typically develop as females, while humans with one X and one Y chromosome typically develop as males. Sex determination is the beginning of the development of many characteristics that influence how a human looks and functions as well as the societal expectations that other humans have for each other.