BATH, England, Thursday September 15, 2016 – A team of British scientists have shown that it may one day be possible to make babies without using eggs, effectively removing women from the baby-making process.
According to the researchers, babies may one day be born from embryos made with skin cells rather than eggs, a possibility that could transform everything from saving endangered animals to human fertility treatment.
The University of Bath scientists made the claim after producing a litter of healthy mice using a technique that bypassed the normal step of fertilizing an egg cell with sperm.
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that eggs may not be unique in their ability to form embryos with sperm, and that skin and other cells in the body could replace them.
According to Tony Perry, an embryologist and lead researcher on the project: “Our work challenges the dogma, held since early embryologists first observed mammalian eggs around 1827 and observed fertilization 50 years later, that only an egg cell fertilized with a sperm cell can result in live mammalian birth.
“What we’re talking about are different ways of making embryos. Imagine that you could take skin cells and make embryos from them? This would have all kinds of utility,” he added.
The possibility of using skin cells instead of eggs is highly speculative at present. But if researchers can overcome further hurdles, they could in theory create embryos for women who cannot make their own eggs because of old age, or after cancer treatment that damages fertility.
Removing the need for an egg could also pave the way for two men to have a child, with one donating an ordinary cell and the other providing sperm.
Just one man could conceivably have a baby using his own cells and sperm, with the resulting child being more like a non-identical twin than a clone.
More immediately, the research might help conservationists to maintain populations of endangered animals by giving them an alternative way to make embryos from rare creatures that could be carried to term in surrogate mothers.
Dr Perry stressed that all possible scenarios were still speculative at this stage.
Earlier this year in China, scientists were able to make sperm from stem cells and then fertilize an egg to produce healthy mice.
Dr Perry suggested that combining the two fields of research may eventually do without the need for sperm and eggs altogether.