Transforming Stem Cells into Sperm and Eggs and Maybe into Babies


Researchers have now succeeded in creating primitive reproductive cells (sperm and eggs) that might some day be combined to produce embryos. Such embryos might grow into babies if they were implanted in a woman's womb. The Telegraph leaps ahead to speculate:

Sperm cells have been created from a female human embryo in a remarkable breakthrough that suggests it may be possible for lesbian couples to have their own biological children.

British scientists who had already coaxed male bone marrow cells to develop into primitive sperm cells have now repeated the feat with female embryonic stem cells.

The University of Newcastle team that has achieved the feat is now applying for permission to turn the bone marrow of a woman into sperm which, if successful, would make the method more practical than with embryonic cells.

It raises the possibility of lesbian couples one day having children who share both their genes as sperm created from the bone marrow of one woman could be used to fertilise an egg from her partner.

The Telegraph also reports that Brazilian researchers have managed to produce "male eggs"—at least from mouse stem cells.

In addition, Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University whose team succeeded last year in reprogramming skin cells into becoming stem cells thinks that the technique could be used to produce reproductive cells. Yamanaka said:

"In theory our work means that you can generate germ cells (eggs and sperm), which could be very good news for the treatment of infertility.

"But what if somebody took those sperm and eggs from a single person and fertilised them?

"The result would be something very strange and dangerous. At this time there are no guidelines or rules that would prevent this."

Strange, perhaps, but dangerous?

Interestingly, British regulators may approve producing reproductive cells by means of stem cells. Again, the Telegraph reports:

The UK parliament is now debating changes to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and the government is under pressure to include an amendment that would allow the future use of eggs and sperm grown in the lab from stem cells.

However, a clause added to this amendment would restrict this to sperm from genetic males and eggs from genetic females.

If these techniques turn out to be safe (and that's a huge, massive, gigantic IF, at this early date), why make that restriction?