Cambridge University researchers have created mouse embryos using stem cells. This is the first time this has been done in mammals. The researchers combined embryonic stem cells and cells that form the placental tissue, rather than starting from a fertilized egg. They then put the cells in a three-dimensional scaffold in a culture mimicking fluids in the womb that allowed them to develop together. The artificial embryos grew for seven days dividing and forming structures found in naturally grown mouse embryos.
The scientists suggest that the same procedures might be applied to create artificial human embryos that would help fertility researchers to figure out why so many pregnancies fail to take. Naturally, advances of this sort provoke bioethical handwringing about "designer babies." For instance, The Daily Telegraph reports:
Dr David King, director of the watchdog group, Human Genetics Alert, said: "What concerns me about the possibility of artificial embryos is that this may become a route to creating GM or even cloned babies.
"Until there is an enforceable global ban on those possibilities, as we saw with mitochondrial transfer, this kind of research risks doing the scientific groundwork for entrepreneurs, who will use the technologies in countries with no regulation."
Why a ban? What is ethically wrong with editing disease genes out of human embryos (GM!) so that they develop into healthy babies? What is immoral about cloning human beings? Once perfected, why shouldn't prospective parents who can't produce gametes be allowed to access these techniques to give birth to genetically-related children?
Congratulations to the researchers on this breakthrough. Full speed ahead.