Stem cell pioneer Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyoto University took a scrap of mouse tail. He wanted to make more mice from it. Just this month, he succeeded. He wasn’t exploring how to make an artificial animal, but rather, how to take a scrap of skin from a real animal and reproduce its genetic offspring in an artificial way.
If you’re starting to see Jurassic Park replays, you’re on the right channel.
Hayashi and his team cultivated the DNA in the skin to create stem cells, and then stimulated the stem cells to become egg cells. The eggs were then fertilized with mouse sperm in the Petri dish. Fertilized eggs were implanted in mice to mature. About one out of 100 of these completely artificial eggs produced a healthy baby mouse.
Thanks to this breakthrough, Jurassic Park-like of transformations could become commonplace. All that’s lacking is a scrap of velociraptor skin.
Artificial eggs could transform reproduction
“This is truly amazing,” says Jacob Hanna, a stem cell in Israel. “To be able to make robust and functional mouse oocytes over and over again entirely in a dish, and see the entire process without the ‘black box’ of having to do any of the steps in host animals, is most exciting.”
It’s not just exciting, it’s potentially transformational for how people (or any egg producing animal) reproduce. For example, Nature reports that Hanna is hoping to create human eggs from skin using Hayashi’s technique. “I do not think it is going to prove much more complex,” the scientist said.
Implications range from the profoundly disruptive–like designer babies–to the precious, like cloning Fido. Moral implications on growing organs and extending life are also quickly in view. This development comes at a landmark time when NIH has recently agreed to fund human/animal hybrid research (chimera research).
It’s time to develop an ethics around this new chapter in reproductive science. “I would say that fully mature and functional ‘eggs in a dish’ should be first produced in large animals – pigs, sheep and cows – before attempting human,” said Prof James Adjaye, director of the institute for stem cell research and regenerative medicine at the University of Düsseldorf.
Should we use this technology to lab produce farm animals more efficiently? Does it have substantial promise for couples, such as same sex male couples, who could engineer their own reproduction? Answers appear to be positive.
Human eggs take ten years to mature in nature, but some scientists believe in the lab, it’s possible they could be redesigned to be mature upon creation. What this fast developing science means for the future of reproduction has both substantially positive–and substantially scary–potential consequences.