This paper defines a human embryo from a biological standpoint that takes into account emerging technologies in reproductive science. The paper does not consider legal, moral, religious or social views. As the definition of a human embryo must reflect the multifactorial processes of development, an approach has been adopted which combines recognition of observed events with potential for further development. This acknowledges that fertilization and development are not static processes, and as such embryo status can only be defined by observation of specific markers. The following biological definition of ‘human embryo’ is proposed.

A human embryo is a discrete entity that has arisen from either:

  • the first mitotic division when fertilization of a human oocyte by a human sperm is complete or

  • any other process that initiates organized development of a biological entity with a human nuclear genome or altered human nuclear genome that has the potential to develop up to, or beyond, the stage at which the primitive streak appears,

and has not yet reached 8 weeks of development since the first mitotic division.

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