Many science-fiction movies (for example, The Island) show the possibility of growing a fertilized human egg cell (from the beginning to the end) outside the womb of the woman.

This means that you have to create the exact circumstances for the fertilized egg cell to develop into a human being. These exact circumstances coincide, obviously, with the womb of a woman.

Doesn't this require a woman, where those circumstances are exact, which means the only place where a fertilized egg cell can grow is the woman itself? So basically I'm saying that you need a woman (the womb is connected to the entire body) to let the single fertilized egg cell into a fully grown 9 months baby.

Well, this isn't exactly true: after development for 5 months or so in the womb, an artificial environment can take over, which is possible with current technology. But to devolop the fertilized egg right from the start is another story? Can it be done, or is it impossible (of which I'm certain, but nevertheless I ask this question)?


1 Answer 1


I believe what you're describing is referred to as ectogenesis which is essentially developing a fertilized egg inside an artificial womb until it’s able to survive outside the controlled environment. So is this possible outside of science fiction? To answer this we have to compare the stages of human reproduction and how close today's science and technology can come replicating/sustaining them.

We'll begin by dividing these stages into two groups: fertilization and development of embryo to fetus.

When it comes to answering the question of whether fertilization can be replicated in vitro or not, the answer is yes it can be done! In fact in vitro artificial fertilization (IVF) has been possible for several decades. In most cases when IVF is performed the egg is then placed inside the mother's uterus where it goes onto to develop into an embryo and then fetus. In regards to "ectogenesis" the IVF egg would be placed into an artificial womb.

In order to form a zygote (fertilized egg) to develop properly into a fetus it has to be an environment to meet it needs. In a female uterus all these needs are met but replicating them might be difficult. An artificial womb would have to be able to provide nutrients, oxygen, and channels for the development process of a fetus as well as system to expel (birth) the fetus once its development is complete. So can today's technology and science do all this? In theory yes, if resources and time where dedicated (and red tape cut) it would be possible to develop a fertilized egg in an artificial environment within the foreseeable future. There have been multiple experiment where artificial wombs were implanted with fertilized eggs and began to grow but were stopped due to legality.

I encourage you to read the following Wikipedia and motherboard articles regarding artificial wombs and ectogenesis.



*Note there is a lot of biology I did not mention regarding zygote to fetus development which is the biggest question/obstacle that ectogenesis might face

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer! But to make the fertilized egg grow the right way don´t the egg´s circumstances must be an exact copy of the womb, wich can only develop in the woman (and thus out of a fertilized egg cell). So don´t you need for the development of the fertilized egg something that can only spring from a fertilized egg wich developed in the womb? I can´t see how the development of a human fertilized eggshell, considering the growth from one cell to the fully grown baby, is compatible with an artificial womb made out of the conscious thoughts and hands (-made mechanics) by men. :-) $\endgroup$ Apr 16, 2016 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, getting the egg to grow is not the problem, getting the egg to grow correctly would require trial and error. As far was matching the condition of the uterus, I "feel" would not be impossible, the reason I say this is discussion the uterus its self is very simple, it is composed of smooth muscle lined with glands . You can look at an experiment done at Cornell where a mouse was grown inside an artifical uterus to see its impossible, the cell grew but the mouse was severly deform and ultimately died before being "born". $\endgroup$
    – M. Carter
    Apr 16, 2016 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ But it´s not only the uterus that´s involved in the growth of the just fertilized egg. Also, the woman that surrounds the egg, and even more affects the growth, and that´s something we can´t imitate. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2016 at 14:00

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