A group of scientists have created artificial human sperm and eggs using stem cells and skin cells. They have performed the replication of sperm and eggs in rodents, but this is the first time scientists have been able to re-create human sperm and eggs.
The final product of the research were not working sperm and eggs, CBS News reported. However, scientists were able to produce germ cells that may be able to mature and help infertile couples become more fertile.
“Germ cells are ‘immortal’ in the sense that they provide an enduring link between all generations, carrying genetic information from one generation to the next,” research leader Azim Surani said.
Scientists identified the gene that is directly responsible for the development of sperm and eggs (SOX17) in rodents. SOX17 is responsible for sperm and egg development as well as the development of the gut, pancreas and lungs in humans.
Upon harvesting these cells, scientists found that the same process could be replicated in human cells.
“The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development,” said Naoko Irie, first author of the study. “It’s a stage we’ve managed to re-create using stem cells from mice and rats, but until now few researches have done this systematically using human stem cells.”
In 2002, U.S. scientists created male and female mouse pups from stem cells. Tech Times reported that, in 2012, Japanese scientists used these cells to create mouse eggs and produce mouse pups.
During the new Cambridge study, scientists were able to transform half of the embryonic cells into sperm and egg cells.
“It’s remarkably fast,” said Surani, who led the Cambridge team. “We can now take any embryonic stem cell line and once we have them in the proper conditions, we can make these primordial cells in five to six days.”
Surani hopes these findings will lay a foundation for future work.
Many researchers have said studying epigenetics, our reproduction, may lead to understanding age-related diseases like cancer. The scientists who conducted this study hope to further study epigenetics and how it can affect overall health.