Transforming Stem Cells into Sperm and Eggs and Maybe into Babies

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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?

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  1. Because.

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

    Because us guys don’t want to be replaced yet?

  3. Shoot, I can make babies without all that new fangled equipment. Where’s my research grant?

  4. “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?

    Yeah, dangerous. 1/4 of that person’s recessive genes could be expressed in the offspring. Think parent-child incest, only twice as bad.

  5. recessive genes aren’t necessarily deleterious

  6. mobile: If you’re simply recombining a single person’s genes, why would that increase the expression of recessive genes? And who says that “recessive” genes are all bad? Some of my best friends have blue eyes.

  7. Because someone has to do this in any remotely related post (and it might as well be me)….”I for one, welcome our new female overlords!”

  8. So this is how men become eradicated from the human species…

  9. Add an artificial womb and it’s a Brave New World. Can someone pass the soma please?

  10. Ron: Because, assuming the sperm/eggs get their mix of chromosomes in the usual random way, some of the chromosomes the resulting child gets would be two copies of the same chromosome, instead of two different ones from two different parents.

    Our hypothetical asexual parent got two different sets of chromosomes, one from mom and one from dad. But if you produce sperm & eggs both from this individual by random shuffling, the child is going to have some chromosome pairs that both came from granddad, and some that both came from grandmom.

  11. Now the hyper-religious are going to have a serious meltdown with this one… The “natural” reason why homosexual couples were “immoral” before was that they could not ever reproduce. Now that they will be able to, there will be even more beef toward stem cells–this time it won’t be because of the source, but the use.

    It’s cool with me that male homosexual sex would still be banned in churches, I 100% prefer the lesbo pr0n anyway.

  12. Ron:

    I think mobile’s assumption is like mating two heterozygous individuals, with a lot of concomitant and not-completely-realistic assumptions about complete independent assortment of genes and the like. Still, not an entirely unreasonable first hypothesis to say that 1/4 of heterozygous loci in the parent would be homozygous recessive in offspring conceived with gametes from a single individual. However, as we both stated, recessive =/= bad automatically.

  13. Salvius: I may be misunderstanding, but why would random (OK, it’s really not completely random), increase the expression of deleterious (not necessarily recessive) genes? Some different ones might be expressed, but why do you think that there would be an increase?

  14. new (for humans) reproductive category: autosexual reproduction

    I told the guy, be fruitful and multiply. But not in those words.

    Hey, go fertilize yourself!

  15. As an unadopted orphan, I’m getting a kick out of this thread.

  16. Salvius: That would be “random shuffling”

  17. “If you’re simply recombining a single person’s genes, why would that increase the expression of recessive genes?”

    Let’s say I’m Bb genotype. I have brown eyes. If you clone me by putting my entire genetic sequence into an egg cell, there’s a 0% chance that the offspring will have blue eyes.

    But if you create male and female germ cells from my stem cells, there’s a 50% chance that the male germ cell will carry the recessive gene, and a 50% chance that the female germ cell will carry the recessive gene. Combine germ cells that have been generated in this fashion and there’s a 25% chance that the offspring will express the recessive gene. Because this would be true for every heterozygous pair of alleles, we would expect approximately 25% of the donor’s recessive genes to be expressed in the offspring.

  18. Have they discovered if stupidity is dominant or recessive yet?

  19. I think mobile’s assumption is like mating two heterozygous individuals

    Like Adam and Eve, for example.

  20. This will really, really make the fundies go FUCKING INSANE. Should be very entertaining.

  21. recessive genes are more likely to be deleterious because dominant genes influence phenotypes more and are less likely to stick around in a population if they are harmful. On average, each human has four killer recessive genes, meaning four genes that, if their expression isn’t muted by heterozygous pairing, kill the individual. These genes are still in the human gene pool because they’re rare enough that non-inbred babies will almost never get the same killer genes from both parents, but if both parents were the same person the chances would be pretty good. So you would have a high chance of some serious birth defects and a very high chance of a stillborn child from fusing two gametes from the same parent.

  22. So much effort put into finding new ways to make new people…

    where are my robots already?

    and what about life extension?

    personally i’d like to live in world with a simple on/off bioswitch for fertility, robot labor and long lives. and i’d be a cyborg, 1/2 robot and 1/2 dolphin.

  23. To answer your unasked but pending question: The most of the bottom 1/2 and my arms would be robotic, the rest is dolphin all the way.

  24. As an unadopted orphan, I’m getting a kick out of this thread.

    You must be one of them ginger freaks.

  25. HEY, I’m a fundie and it don’t bother me at all.
    but then, I was a batshit crazy Libertarian long before I recognized God’s presence in the world.

  26. It is worth noting—if you haven’t thought of this before—that substantially deleterious dominant genes do not persist in the gene pool for long, but recessive ones can linger.

    If there is a linked benefit such as the malaria resistance of sickle cell carriers problematic recessives can become well established in the population.

    The result is that most of the scary genes in the population are recessives, and that an increased risk of reinforcing a single set of recessives should be taken with caution.

    Ah, I see that Jorgen beat me to it and with better statistics, too. Damn you, Jorgen.

  27. most deleterious alleles are recessive is not the same thing as most recessive alleles are deleterious

    deleterious condition also depends strongly on environment, as with sickle cell

  28. Others have answered, but I’ll put it another way: Fertilizing an egg with a sperm from the same individual would not produce a clone of the individual, it would produce a child suffering from the same effects (and for the same reason) as brother-sister incest, only even more so.

  29. Can I still practice on myself?

  30. “God’s presence in the world”

    Prove it.

  31. Jorgen, do your stats imply something like a 68% probability that any auto-fertilised embryo will dye due to one or more of those 4 combinations?

  32. anon & Salvius: Thanks very much for your explanations. If you have 2 heteorozygous individuals with the same profiles Bb and Bb-(and assuming b was deleterious) the risk would be the same, right? bb, Bb, Bb, BB

  33. Correct, the result would be the same for that individual gene and any other genes for which BOTH individuals had the heterozygous genotype.

    When both germ cells are drawn from the same person, though, it’s as though two individuals mated who shared all of the same heterozygous alleles, an event that would otherwise be mind-bogglingly rare.

  34. What if the lesbians want to raise a boy?

  35. Ventifact – that will require additional technology and the donation of a Y chromosome from a male

  36. What if the lesbians want to raise a boy?

    That boy, coupled with the right personality, would HAVE so mucn knowledge in certain important areas that he would be irresistable to any woman after one night.

  37. And how does this relate to the Disney universe, where, I believe, the denizens reproduce primarily by avunculogenesis – no one seems to have parents, they just have aunts or uncles (e.g., Uncle Scrooge McDuck -> Donald Duck -> Huey, Dewey, and Louie)?

  38. “Prove it.”

    Nick, I only offer proof to those who can prove
    their mind exists. To do otherwise would be a waste of my time.

    ;~)
    NS

  39. By having this conversation we have proven our minds exist. Proceed.

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

    It would blow up family tree software.

  41. Nick,
    I have witnessed a conversation between a computer with speech recognition software and a human, but that did not prove that either had a mind. Try again.

    NS

  42. Nick,
    I can assure you that I am self-aware, but there is no way to prove it to another. You may infer self awareness in others and even in some animals, but it cannot be proven.

    I have experienced my own self awareness, my mind, and God, but there is no way to prove it to anyone outside of myself. Likewise, you cannot prove that your mind exists.

    I mentioned my status as a “fundy” solely for the purpose of demonstrating that not all of us would be driven insane by the news of sperm and eggs being created from stem cells. I was not trying to win converts or convince anyone to believe in God.

    NS

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