Scientists in Japan have produced a litter of healthy baby mice from eggs created entirely in a laboratory. The same team reportedly fabricated mouse sperm a year ago, but they say that that was no big. It's the fragile, fickle lady eggs that are the real challenge. And now they've done it! From scratch! Woooooooo!
The eggs were created with a combination of embryonic stem cells (which have the potential to become any type of cell) and mature mouse cells that were reprogrammed to achieve "an embryonic-like state." You can read a more detailed breakdown of the process here.
So, of course, the immediate question is: Can I make human eggs out of my own drain-hair and grow a baby version of me that I can take to parties and tell everyone that I'm its older self from the future and came back to warn it about "mullet hemlines"? (WE WILL ALL BE EMBARRASSED.)
And the answer to that is, basically, nah. But maybe! You never know!
It will be even tougher to repeat the trick in people. But if it can ever be done, it has the potential to transform reproductive medicine by enabling both infertile men and women to conceive their own genetic offspring.
Any such advance would also raise thorny ethical questions. In theory, at least, it would allow a man or woman of any age-or even someone who is dead but whose tissues are preserved-to become a parent.
Oooooh, it's like Jurassic Park, but with people!!! I WANT TO GIVE BIRTH TO A WOOLLY MAMMOTH.
There is no guarantee the technique would work on human cells. The growth-factor proteins that work in mice, for example, are different than the ones needed for human cells.
Still, the experiments are likely to offer useful insights into how a primordial cell gets converted into a specialized egg or sperm, a process that is poorly understood today.
And while the latest work has a touch of "cellular alchemy," as Dr. Daley puts it, scientists need to see if the technique will work on other mammals. That effort is under way. Dr. Hayashi said his colleague and co-author of the study, Mitinori Saitou, is in the early stages of trying to make sperm and eggs from primate cells.
Cue hand-wringing about the "end of men" for the trillionth time. Yawn. Except, wait—loophole!—if we can create eggs from scratch in a lab too, not just sperm, then doesn't that signal the end of women as well? We're all going extinct!!! And baby mice will inherit the earth. Awww.
Photo credit: michey / Stockfresh.