British scientists at the Newcastle University have announced that they are ready to turn female bone marrow into sperm. This type of research has been a high priority, using cells that theoretically can turn into any other type of cell. Naturally, a chorus of concerns and arguments has been raised almost immediately.
I’m going to make a quick author’s note here however: To ignore the fact that each and every one of us has a view on these sorts of topics would be naïve; and to think that any one of us has the right one, even more so. So I’m going to report this, hopefully, without any personal bias whatsoever. I’ll endeavor to swap moments of normal bias, with moments of humor; we’ll see how it goes.
Using material gathered from a female embryonic stem cell, and combined with special chemicals and vitamins (thus making it sound like a breakfast cereal combination), the female sperm is created. However, without the male Y-chromosome, the female sperm will only be able to create girls.
The team, led by Professor Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University, has already “succeeded” in a similar method, by creating “primitive sperm cells” from male bone marrow. I put the word succeeded in quotations because one must consider a certain definition for succeed. If one expects the sperm to simply create life, then yes, it worked. If one however might expect, surprisingly enough, that life to actually live a healthy life, then one might be forgiven for contesting the successfulness of the test.
You see, in 2006 Professor Nayernia created sperm cells created from the male cells of mice. The mice produced 7 pups. Wonderful right? Not so much, considering that one died and the other six had serious health problems. It isn’t what we would necessarily term a rousing success.
Another recent development has seen researchers at the Butantan Institute in Brazil successfully turn embryonic stem cells from male mice in to both sperm and eggs. Their next goal is skin cells!
I’ve been hesitant about bringing up the social implications, as it might end up seeing me break my vow of unbiased commentary. But whichever article you look at you will find that apparently the major benefit will be to those of same-sex partnerships. Women can now have little girls that have genetic links to both parents. Men can now do the same, although they still need a female hatchery (ooh, is that verging too much towards the judgmental?).
Thankfully some articles deem it newsworthy enough to mention that there are heterosexual couples that will be able to benefit from this. Those left infertile due to radiotherapy, for example, would now be able to create a child with their partner, with their own genetic material.
Let’s not underestimate just how big a step this is. All of the right wing versus left wing political debates aside, the possibility for an infertile couple to create a child that has properties from both of their own genetic makeup is something special. Many people are willing to adopt, go through surrogacy, etc, just to have a child; but even then, despite how much they will try to hide it, there is still a certain sting knowing that your child doesn’t have a part of you making them what they are.
I’ll allow a certain amount of personal bias to come back in to what I’m writing at this point. Whether I managed to keep it out until now is a matter of opinion; personally I think I just got nasty. Nevertheless, there will be those that somehow genetically or unwittingly make a complete fool of themselves when these issues are brought to light.
There are the normal ethical considerations to be considered, ignoring any religious fanatics, because before long they’ll be too loud to drown out. Sadly, one has already made his mark on the topic. Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute faith group, has come out and said that the Newcastle project flies in the face of social research showing that children do better when they are raised by a married heterosexual couple.
“Children need male and female role models in their lives,” he added. “Yes, there are children raised by single parents through all sorts of circumstances, but when you are talking about deliberately creating children in that way…”
See, right up until that point he was doing ok. There is a socially responsible question to be raised here; how does an adult’s desire to have children weigh up against the child’s own further wellbeing? That is a question that many of us will allow to be raised without any objections. But Judge goes and screws it all up by adding these final four words; “…that is morally wrong.”
Nevertheless, there you have the unbiased and somewhat humorous facts, wrapped up with a mini-rant against those religious fanatics that make the world so hard for those of us (myself included) that hope to live a Christian life without ridicule.
Side note – everyone is portraying this as the death of the male. One would wonder however, with the knowledge that when the male species dies out you won’t be able to get him back, is it all really worth it? Seriously, do you think that you – the woman reading this article – will eventually be able to evolve enough to read a map? I don’t think so!
Joshua Hill, a Geek’s-Geek from Melbourne, Australia, Josh is an aspiring author with dreams of publishing his epic fantasy, currently in the works, sometime in the next 5 years. A techie, nerd, sci-fi nut and bookworm.
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