Upon reading Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and her take on what the future of baby-making could look like, I remembered a research I came across a few months ago concerning the use of skin cells to create eggs.
Yes, SKIN CELLS, you read it right!
Babies may one day be born from embryos made from skin cells rather than eggs, according to a recent scientific research.
Isn’t that amazing!
What’s the science behind this?
This research started in 2012 by a reproductive biologist named Katsuhiko Hayashi at Kyushu University in Fukuoka. He led a team together with stem-cell biologist Mitinori Saitou and they successfully managed to turn skin cells into primordial germ cells. PGCs are what give rise to sperm and eggs. They can be described as immature egg cells that are in their beginning stages of development.
This was done using the skin cells from the tails of brown female mice in a lab. In order to fully help these artificial eggs develop, scientists had to take a little bit of tissue from the ovaries of mouse fetuses and incorporate them with the immature egg cells. This helped the undeveloped egg cells to fully mature.
Now we had eggs made from skin cells alone!
In order to test if these egg cells actually did what they were meant to do, the scientists fertilized them with the sperm of brown mice using the IN-VITRO fertilization technique. Then they implanted the fertilized eggs into the uteruses of the female mice.
8 healthy pups were born from reprogrammed skin cells!
Hayashi even reported that some of these animals were able to give birth to a second generation of mice.
What does this mean for humans?
No one has yet tried to create human eggs from skin cells, but Hayashi says that in theory, it should be possible.
Such an advancement in scientific research would open tons of new possibilities for the future of conceiving babies.
Let’s explore some of them:
Putting and end to infertility
Think about it…
If we were able to make an unlimited amount of eggs from skin cells, then we could completely eradicate infertility. Such advancement would be extremely useful for women who have become less fertile with age or who have a low number of eggs. They could get pregnant by transforming their skin cells into eggs and fertilizing them using IVF. Such technique could even be used for women that have had their ovaries damaged due to radiation treatment for cancer!
Babies with two genetic fathers
The same technique could be used to create eggs from male skin cells, allowing babies to have shared DNA from two male fathers. Of course, a woman would still be needed to carry the baby to term.
This could be amazing for gay couples!
Hayashi has tried to create eggs from the skin cells of male mice, but he hasn’t yet succeeded. This raises a lot more challenges than creating eggs from female skin cells. This is because having just the Y chromosomes disrupts the process of successful cell division. In order for this to work, scientists would have to find a different method. The fact that fetal tissue was used to boost the maturity of the eggs could also be a challenge.
Saving endangered animals species
If this technique proves to be successful in other animals, then it could be used for breeding endangered animal species.
This could save a lot of animals from extinction!
What are the downsides?
As exciting as this scientific advancement is, I can’t help but think of the possible controversies and negative consequences attached to it.
Of course, everything comes with their pros and cons. Being such a new technique, it is almost impossible to know for sure if the same could be applied to humans. Theory is one thing, but actually managing to do it is different and far more challenging.
There are many risks associated with this research that most scientists are not willing to take with humans. This raises the question of using animals to experiment on. Is that ethically ok?
Another controversy attached to this research is the role of women in conceiving. Are we looking at a future where anyone can have babies and women are no longer needed?
Should we look forward to this or would it be pushing technology too far? Do the positive impacts outweigh the negative ones or not?
Tell me what you think!
Relation to Oryx and Crake
In Oryx and Crake, we see a futuristic world where technology and science have taken over. Jimmy seems very bothered by the fact that Ramona and his father want to have a child together. The idea of having a sibling isn’t what troubles him, but the thought of it being superior to him. By superior, Jimmy entails that Ramona and his father will try to create this perfect child by most likely undergoing some sort of genetic remodeling. In other words, handcrafting their own child.
This is a perfect example in the book of technology pushing too far.
When is it too much?
Ana Paula Facetti
For more information about the subject, check out:
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2003.
Jessica Hamzelou, ‘Eggs made from skin cells in lab could herald end to infertility ‘. Scientist Journal. October 17, 2016
David Cyranoski, ‘Mouse eggs made from skin cells in a dish’. Nature Journal. October 17, 2016