Sex cells, made in a lab

M Ramesh | Updated on: Sep 03, 2022
Artificial human zygote is closer to reality than ever before

Artificial human zygote is closer to reality than ever before | Photo Credit: luismmolina

How scientists are creating sex cells — ova (eggs) and sperms — from blood cells of adults

When VJ was just an embryo, his genius-father, Victor, genetically engineered him to be ultra-super-intelligent. At 12, VJ was so deep into science that he had already killed a few people who came in the way of his research. Things went out of hand as VJ’s insanely intense scientific research recognises no ethics or law, leaving the father no option but to kill his son... and himself.

In  Mutation, Robin Cook underpins his thriller plot with ethics of genetic engineering. That was in 1989. As you may imagine, things have moved quite a bit since.

Today, as we rush into an era of synthetic biology — a science that enables you to make a genome of your choice in a lab — researchers are engaged in a jaw-dropping moonshot that is sure to evoke both awe and shudder.  MIT Technology Review reports a research in which scientists are creating sex cells — ova (eggs) and sperms — from blood cells of adults. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man — they can create ova and sperms from your blood cells and get the sperm to fertilise the eggs in a lab — giving an entirely different meaning to the expression ‘single parent’.

Using this method, same-sex parents could have a biological baby, with eggs from one parent and sperms from the other.

This work takes off from a Nobel-winning discovery. Different cells have different specialisations, meaning they are programmed to become different parts of the body. In 1962, Englishman John Gurdon discovered that this specialisation was reversible. In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka of Japan showed that mature cells could be reprogrammed to become immature stem cells. As we know, stem cells can grow into any part of the body — indeed, they can grow into ova and sperms. Gurdon and Yamanaka got the Nobel Prize in 2012.

They have done it with mice, but  MIT Technology Review says it is a matter of time before an artificial human zygote (fertilised egg) is produced in lab.

Like VJ, when the zygote matures into an embryo, it can be genetically engineered into a superhuman. The question is whether the superhuman would be a god or a wendigo.

Published on September 04, 2022
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