We here at Giant Freakin’ Robot don’t wear our politics on our sleeves, though we do wipe our noses on them. Not the hot debate issue it once was when George W. Bush was in office, stem cell research has not stopped developing in its time outside of the public eye. There seems to be no end in sight to finding ways for stem cells to enhance our lives. And now researchers could be on their way to removing “us” from the equation altogether.
Japanese scientists out of Kyoto University, led by biologist Mitinori Saitou, have used a lot of non-layman’s terms in order to produce a mouse birthed by an egg created entirely from stem cells. Last year, Saitou’s team was successful in birthing a mouse using sperm created entirely from stem cells. I can only assume his next step will be to create “stem cell slow jazz” to get everyone in the mood.
In the past, scientists had been unsuccessful in creating germ cells, the gamete-less sexual reproductive cells that pre-date sperm and egg cells. Saitou’s team cultured together the mouse’s embryonic stem cells (from the embryo) and induced pluripotent stem cells (reprogrammable adult cells) with a mixture of proteins, producing primordian germ cell-like cells. Then, mixing these cells with fetal ovarian cells, the team formed makeshift ovaries that were grafted onto the natural ovaries of living mice, from which oocytes (pre-egg cells) were formed after just over a month.
Still with me? The ovaries were then removed, and the oocytes were harvested and later fertilized in vitro before being put inside surrogate mouse mothers. Just three short weeks later, and the world’s first parent-less mouse pups entered the world. With the experiment a success, the easy part is complete, and the team now has the task of figuring out exactly what molecular processes were occurring in order for the oocytes to develop. The next large goal would be to create the oocytes in a dish without the need for grafting ovaries.
As with almost all animal experiments, the true end game lies in what good this can do for humans, should the masses allow it. The answer is complicated, of course. Should the process work with our cells, it would be a victory for infertile women and men, or for potential parents whose illnesses or age may prevent natural pregnancy.
There’s no reason this should make me think of a Stepford Wives monotonous string of robots rolling out on a conveyor belt, but it comes close. Despite all of the inhabitable land that hasn’t been exploited yet, this is still an over-populated world. To discover how to bring more life into it without so much as having the father lie about pulling out feels like an intellectual success, but not a practical one. This will not end in mass agreement. But for now, look at the cute wittle mousey wousey.