Medical Advances towards creating sperm and eggs in the lab

Ygggdrasil

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Since @BillTre mentioned he was previously interested in generating fish sperm cells in the lab, I though I'd share a recent article from MIT's Technology Review magazine covering recent advances in reproductive biology toward generating sperm and egg cells in the lab through cellular reprogramming. In addition to being a big help to those dealing with infertility, these technologies could have broader, far-reaching societal implications:
Progress toward making “artificial gametes” has been accelerating. In Japan, mice were born from eggs scientists had manufactured in a dish from a tail cell. Chinese scientists later claimed they had determined the exact sequence of molecular signals required to make mouse sperm. So far, the exact biochemical formula for prompting a stem cell to mature into functional human eggs or sperm remains out of reach. No human skin cell has been turned into a bona fide human reproductive cell. But many scientists believe it’s only a matter of time—maybe only a year or two—before they get the right recipe. Recent advances have been “absolutely clear, and breathtaking” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist who recently became dean of Harvard’s medical school.

As control over the fundamental units of reproduction advances, the work is drawing the attention of entrepreneurs, legal experts, bioethicists, and specialists in in vitro fertilization. Some believe that artificial gametes could be the biggest leap forward since IVF itself was first tried, in 1977. Many millions of people can’t reproduce, whether because of cancer, accidents, age, or genetics. “You’d be saying that if you have skin, which you do if you are even alive, then you can have sperm,” says B.D.

The technology could carry socially disruptive consequences. Women might have children regardless of age. Just grab some skin and poof, young eggs. And if eggs and sperm can be produced in the lab, why not also make embryos by the dozens and test them to pick those with the least disease risk or the best chance of a high IQ? Henry Greely, a member of Stanford University’s law faculty and one of the most influential bioethical thinkers in the U.S., finds that scenario likely. Last year, in a book titled The End of Sex, he predicted half of couples would stop reproducing naturally by 2040, instead relying on synthetic reproduction using skin or blood as a starting point.
It's a good read if you are interested in the topic: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608452/a-new-way-to-reproduce/amp/
 

BillTre

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Very interesting article.

To do some of the things they mention in it (the sex changing things, making male gametes from females and visa versa) would require overcoming or changing the sexual imprinting of the genome (which was discussed in an earlier thread). Not aware of where the state of the art is on this and if their new techniques would deal with the problem directly.

Another possible issue might be the accumulation mutations in germ cells produced from "old" somatic (non-reproductive body) cells that have been dividing and perhaps accumulating mutations or shortening their telomeres during someone's life, while normal germ cells and germ cell precursors where stored away on gametes where they are (possibly) "protected" from such damage. This (I would guess) would be more of a problem with eggs (there are only a few hundred of them in human females) as opposed to males. If this were a problem, then it would be necessary to surveil for somatic mutations in addition to the parent's germline mutants that might already be known.
 

Ygggdrasil

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Very interesting article.

To do some of the things they mention in it (the sex changing things, making male gametes from females and visa versa) would require overcoming or changing the sexual imprinting of the genome (which was discussed in an earlier thread). Not aware of where the state of the art is on this and if their new techniques would deal with the problem directly.

Another possible issue might be the accumulation mutations in germ cells produced from "old" somatic (non-reproductive body) cells that have been dividing and perhaps accumulating mutations or shortening their telomeres during someone's life, while normal germ cells and germ cell precursors where stored away on gametes where they are (possibly) "protected" from such damage. This (I would guess) would be more of a problem with eggs (there are only a few hundred of them in human females) as opposed to males. If this were a problem, then it would be necessary to surveil for somatic mutations in addition to the parent's germline mutants that might already be known.
All good concerns. In addition to telomere attrition and DNA damage, there is question whether the reprogramming methods used to convert differentiated cells into induced pleuripotent stem cells actually achieve complete reprogramming, or whether some changes are incomplete and could cause problems for some applications (see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/stem.700/abstract).

Recent research
has shown that mouse skin cells reprogrammed into eggs can develop into healthy, reproductively competent adults, though the success rate is low (~ 3.5% vs ~ 60% for natural oocytes), suggesting that only a fraction of cells get correctly reprogrammed and we still need to learn more about the reprogramming process. It's also worth noting that mice have extremely long telomeres compared to humans, so problems with telomeres might not be as readily apparent in mice as in humans.
 

BillTre

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In my opinion, this is the kind of stuff that will provide some of the most interesting bases for science fiction speculation (an important sub-forum here).

There is a lot of potential for differences from what today holds, with lots of potential for social/political impacts, conflicts, and interactions.
Get on it Sci-Fi people, I want more Biologically based Science-Fiction!
Even without the fiction, there are so many interesting close-to-the-present possibilities.
Would have been really mind-blowing stuff just a few years ago. More to come.
 

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