No Sperm Required
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust
31 October 2001
Scientists from the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Genetics in Los Angeles, US are seeking a way to fertilise human eggs without the need for sperm. The research involves the use of a chemical cocktail which acts as 'artificial sperm', tricking an egg to form an embryo. The embryos would currently be incapable of developing into children, as the cells would be likely to divide for a short time before dying. But it is hoped that the early embryo could be used as a source of stem cells for use in medical research.
The process of coaxing eggs to develop into embryos without sperm is called parthenogenesis. Occasionally this happens naturally in other animals such as frogs and insects. Whereas in sexual reproduction an egg provides only half of the number of chromosomes needed to form an embryo, in parthenogenesis the egg duplicates its own chromosomes to form the necessary number.
The discovery came about during investigations into new ways of modifying embryos in order to grow brain nerve cells for transplant into patients with Parkinson's disease. Experiments with mouse eggs triggered their development into embryos. Some of these were placed into surrogate mice, but they were not able to grow into fully developed offspring. The scientists realised that using the technique for reproductive purposes would cause ethical problems, especially if the process was developed for human use.
© Copyright Progress Educational Trust
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.
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