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Scientists are calling for a review of the 14-day rule on embryo research, saying that extending the limit could help uncover the causes of recurrent miscarriage and congenital conditions.

Until now, scientists studying the earliest stages of life have been restricted to cultivating embryos up to the equivalent of 14 days of development. They can then pick up the path of development several weeks later, on pregnancy scans and from material donated from terminations.

But this leaves a “black box” period from two to around four weeks of development that has never been directly studied and which scientists say could hold the key to improving fertility treatments and the understanding of a variety of birth defects.

With an overhaul of fertility laws on the horizon and rapid scientific advances under way, scientists are calling for a review of the 14-day rule.

Dr Peter Rugg-Gunn, of the Babraham Institute in Cambridge , said: “The period from two weeks to four weeks has been labelled the black box of embryo development. There’s no practical way to study this currently so our knowledge...