International collaborative study provides insight into gene activation in single-cell embryos



The groundbreaking study involved researchers from Ovation Fertility, the University of Bath and the University of Cambridge, who found that genes in human embryos “wake up” soon after fertilization.

Matthew “Tex” VerMilyea, PhD, HCLD / CC

Dr. VerMilyea is Vice President of Scientific Advancement for Ovation Fertility.

Dr. VerMilyea is Vice President of Scientific Advancement for Ovation Fertility.

Nashville, TN, December 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – IVF Service Company Ovation Fertility announces the publication of a new collaborative study, “Activation of the human embryonic genome begins at the unicellular stage. “The groundbreaking study reveals that genes in human embryos quickly become active soon after fertilization, at the single-cell stage, rather than at the multicellular stage as previously believed. A summary of the research is now available online at and to Stem cell.

The international study was co-led by Professor Tony Perry PhD, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Giles Yeo PhD, MBE, University of Cambridge, and Matthew VerMilyea, PhD, HCLD / CC at Ovation Fertility.

“It was previously thought that genes only become active in human embryos two or three days after fertilization, when an embryo has four to eight cells,” explains Matthew “Tex” VerMilyea, PhD, HCLD / CC, Vice President of Scientific Advancement at Ovation. “Our research has shown that, in fact, genetic activity begins when an embryo is just one cell. We also found that gene activation mirrors early embryonic processes, is disrupted in abnormal embryos, and predicts links to transcription regulators associated with cancer. The more we can understand the genome awakening process, the better we can understand genetic makeup, infertility and disease. These are very interesting findings that have implications for epigenetic inheritance as well as for embryos derived from stem cells and cancer. “

Using state-of-the-art RNA sequencing, the team applied precision analysis to individual human eggs and unicellular embryos, creating a detailed inventory of RNA transcripts produced by the gene activity. This process, which was sensitive enough to reveal even small changes in gene activity, revealed that hundreds of genes are awakened in human embryos to one cell.

In addition, the international research team has found that many genes activated in single-celled embryos remain activated until the embryo reaches four to eight cells and then extinguishes. Some genes activated early may play specific roles in early embryos, but since the roles of some genes are unknown, more research is needed to understand their impact on embryonic development. Now that the first embryonic genes have been identified, future research may focus on how genetic activation is triggered and the role the egg plays in genetic activation.

Because certain factors that trigger gene activation are also thought to be associated with cancer, researchers believe that the natural role of factors known to behave badly in cancer is to awaken genes in single-celled embryos. Although more research is needed to verify this link, the results of this study could help clarify the events that trigger cancer, leading to new opportunities for diagnostic and preventive advancements.

This research also has implications for the inheritance of acquired traits, such as obesity. Scientists do not yet understand how acquired traits are passed down, but the research team speculates that altered gene activation after fertilization may play a role and may be detectable at the unicellular stage of embryo development.

By examining the genetic makeup of single-cell embryos that did not continue to develop, the study researchers also found that many of their genes did not turn on. This finding suggests that abnormal embryos should not be used to assess hereditary genome editing methods, as they have been in the past.

Learn more about Ovation research at

About Ovation Fertility
Ovation® Fertility is a national network of reproductive endocrinologists and scientific opinion leaders focused on reducing the cost of having a family through more effective and efficient fertility care. Ovation’s IVF and Genetics Laboratories, along with affiliated physician offices, are working collaboratively to raise the bar for IVF treatment, with state-of-the-art, evidence-based fertility services that empower hopeful parents the best chance of a successful pregnancy. Doctors Partner with Ovation to Offer Advanced Carrier Screening Pre-conception to Their Patients; preimplantation genetic testing; egg donor and surrogacy services; and safe storage of their frozen eggs, embryos and sperm. Ovation also helps IVF labs across America improve their quality and performance through guidance and expert consultation offsite. Learn more about Ovation’s vision for a world without infertility at

University of Bath
The University of Bath is one of the UK’s leading universities, both in terms of research and a reputation for excellence in teaching, learning and graduate study prospects. The university is ranked Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the government’s assessment of the quality of teaching at universities, which means that its teaching is of the highest quality in the UK. In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 research assessment, 87 percent of its research was defined as “world class” or “internationally excellent”. From developing the fuel-efficient cars of the future to identifying infectious diseases faster or improving the lives of women farmers in West Africa, Bath’s research is making a difference around the world. Well established as a stimulating environment for enterprising minds, Bath ranks well in all national rankings. We are ranked 8th in the UK by the Guardian University Guide 2022, 9th in the Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022 and 10th in the Complete University Guide 2022. Our sports offer has been ranked in the top 10 worldwide in the QS. World university ranking by subject in 2021. To find out more, go to

About the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit
The MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit is based at the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science. It supports research to improve understanding of the basic mechanisms responsible for obesity and associated metabolic diseases. This knowledge underpins the development of interventions to prevent and treat these conditions.

About the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is one of the top 10 universities in the world, with a rich history of radical thought dating back to 1209. Its mission is to contribute to society by bringing education, learning and research to the highest levels. international levels of excellence. The university comprises 31 autonomous colleges and 150 departments, faculties and institutions. Its 24,450 student body includes more than 9,000 international students from 147 countries. In 2020, 70.6% of its new undergraduates were from public schools and 21.6% from economically disadvantaged areas. Cambridge’s research spans almost every discipline, from science, technology, engineering and medicine to the arts, humanities and social sciences, with multidisciplinary teams working to address major global challenges. Its researchers provide academic leadership, develop strategic partnerships and collaborate with colleagues around the world. The university is at the heart of the ‘Cambridge cluster’, in which more than 5,300 knowledge-intensive companies employ more than 67,000 people and generate revenues of £ 18 billion. Cambridge has the highest number of patent applications per 100,000 population in the UK. Learn more about


CONTACT: Amy Hall Ovation Fertility 214.893.8214 [email protected]



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