Want to do something really revolutionary?
If you happen to be a scientist, you might fancy taking on the creation of new mammal life without an egg cell, without a mother. (Genetically fatherless mice, after all, have already been science fact rather than science fiction since 2004, when a team led by Japanese biologist Tomohiro Kono from the Tokyo University of Agriculture managed to combine the genetic material of two female mice into viable embryos. Ten mouse pups were born, of which one survived through adulthood.)
Scientists Find That Egg Cells Are Not Needed To Create Live Mammals
British scientists from the University of Bath made serious inroads into the futuristic-sounding possibility of two men having a baby together. Egg cells were always thought to be unique, in that just 50 percent of chromosomes are utilized during cell division. Coming together with a sperm cell, which carries that same special property, you then have a complete creature — a creature that's genetically half mother, half father.
Creating so-called pseudo-embryos from unfertilized egg cells by using chemicals to make the cells react as if they had been fertilized, and realizing that these cells had much in common with any ordinary, run of the mill, cell in the body, they came to the conclusion that it might be possible to create mammals by combining sperm cells with any cell in the body at some point in the future. Injecting sperm into these pseudo-embryos, they did not only end up with healthy mice, but with several generations of healthy mice — offspring of the initial, essentially motherless, ones.
If healthy mice can result from these pseudo-embryos, that is, something other than the traditional combination of male and female gametes, what else is possible? The team plans to test this out by combining manipulated skin cells with sperm cells next.
Meanwhile, this discovery is big in itself. As molecular embryologist Dr Tony Perry, a senior author of the study, published in Nature Communications, says: "This is the first time that anyone has been able to show that anything other than an egg can combine with a sperm in this way to give rise to offspring. It overturns nearly 200 years of thinking."
"It has been thought that only an egg cell was capable of reprogramming sperm to allow embryonic development to take place, Dr Perry added. "We’re talking about different ways of making embryos. Imagine that you could take skin cells and make embryos from them."
No, it won't be possible for two men to have babies together next year, and it probably won't happen within the next 10 years either. Actually creating mice from skin cells and sperm cells is first, after all. This study, however, shows that exactly that could be a scientific possibility at some point in the future. Indeed, if skin cells and sperm cells could, together, create human babies, the technology would valuable to women who do not have access to eggs as well as couples made up of two genetically male people. Debates on the ethical implications of the technology will certainly follow before it becomes a practical possibility, but watch this space!