British scientists claim to of discovered a process which turns human female embryonic stem cells into sperm cells, a process that researchers say may someday allow gay couples to have a biological child of their own.
According to The Asian Age, the Newcastle University team led by Prof. Karim Nayernia have created “primitive” human sperm that has yet to undergo meiosis, the right amount of genetic material for fertilization.
The scientists, who had already made male bone marrow cells to develop into primitive sperm cells, have managed to make female embryonic stem cells to turn into sperm cells.
As for the reasons why, as a society, we may want to utilize lab or “test tube” versus human sperm, researchers say this type of research may lead to new treatments in infertility or allow lesbian and gay couples to have children that are genetically their own.
Cynics may claim that scientists are on the verge of “playing God”.
From a 2004 edition of New Scientist:
Growing sperm in a test tube may offer a powerful new way to genetically modify animals and potentially correct human genetic diseases before conception.
The technology offers two advantages. Firstly, it creates GM animals in one generation rather than two, unlike most conventional techniques. Secondly, because the genes are spliced into laboratory-born sperm, it may allow scientists to do sophisticated genetic manipulations in a wide range of animals. So far these have only been possible in mice.
“The big deal here is that this opens up vast possibilities to tailor this technique for different applications,” says Shawn Burgess of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. But experts say the technology will need to be improved further before it shows real promise.
In 2006, Times Online reported the “Creation of the Test Tube Father”… using mice:
ARTIFICIAL sperm have been used to create living animals for the first time, in an experiment that promises an end to male infertility.
Scientists have fertilised mouse eggs with sperm grown from embryonic stem (ES) cells to produce seven pups, proving that working reproductive cells can be made in the laboratory. The births provide the strongest evidence yet that it will be possible eventually to use stem cells to treat infertile men who can make no sperm of their own.
The NewCastle University team claims to be the first to create human male sperm from human female embryonic stem cells, another step closer to these scientific visions:
Other experiments have suggested that artificial eggs can be made from female embryos, raising similar hopes for infertile women, though no offspring have been born. In the longer term, it may be possible to produce sperm from female stem cells, and eggs from male ones, allowing homosexual couples to have children that bear the genes of both parents. In theory, a single person might even provide both the eggs and sperm needed to create an embryo.
The creation of “male eggs” and “female sperm”, however, faces difficult technical barriers, as embryos require genetic material from both a mother and a father in order to develop normally. Source – Times
Once scientists have perfected a way to replicate human sperm in a test tube what will be their next milestone? What sort of future can we envision, where one no longer needs a “biological” partner to have a child of their own?
Where one can have their own child, of their own sperm and egg, genetically engineered in their own image?
A Brave New World indeed.