In a new groundbreaking study, scientists have challenged the idea that it is only possible to produce children using an egg, and fertilising it with sperm.
Instead, the discovery has shown for the fist time that embryos can be made from non-egg cells, suggesting that it might be possible to conceive children using skin cells.
In a new experiment on mice, scientists appear to have shown that it was possible to produce healthy offspring while bypassing the normal route of fertilising an egg with sperm.
The Independent reports:
Usually, those embryos die after a few days because they are not properly programmed. But in the new studies, scientists found that they could inject them with sperm and transform them into normal embryos – and let them go on to produce healthy offspring.
The study produced 30 mouse pups with a success rate of 24 per cent. That is far above the 1 or 2 percent success rate usually found in the traditional method of cloning, by transferring DNA to donated eggs.
That finding matters because parthenogenotes are similar to other ordinary cells, like skin cells. Both are mitotic, and if living offspring can be produced from one then it should be possible to create them from the other using the same technique.
The study is published today in the journal Nature Communications.
Molecular embryologist Dr Tony Perry, senior author of the study, said: “This is first time that full term development has been achieved by injecting sperm into embryos.
“It had been thought that only an egg cell was capable of reprogramming sperm to allow embryonic development to take place.”
“Our work challenges the dogma, held since early embryologists first observed mammalian eggs around 1827 and observed fertilisation 50 years later, that only an egg cell fertilised with a sperm cell can result in a live mammalian birth.”
The experiment could pave the way to allow gay biological men to have children with each other, allowing a man to “fertilise his own cells with his own sperm, producing offspring that would use only his genes and those inherited from his parents. But more immediately the finding could suggest that women whose fertility has been wiped out by cancer drugs or other treatments to still have their own children, using another of their cells. At the moment, people in that situation can only have children of their own if their eggs were frozen before treatment; after they are lost, there is nothing that can be done.”
“The practical applications of this as the technology stands at the moment are not very broad,” Dr Perry said at a press conference.
“What we’re saying is that these embryos are mitotic cells – mitotic cells are the type of cell that almost every dividing cell in your body is. And therefore potentially one day we might be able to extend what we’ve shown in these mitotic cells to other mitotic cells.
“Will we be able to do that? I don’t know. But I think, if it is ever possible, one day in the distant future people will look back and say this is where it started.”