Perhaps you heard last week that researchers were able to create (in mice) sperm from embryonic stem cells.
What this means is that they reall first created an embryo from an adult cell (via somatic cell nuclear transfer
, or some derivative of that technique), thus cloning the first mouse, but then after dismembering the new cloned mouse embryo for its cells, they direct the cells, through some delicate treatments and culturing techniques, to mature into germ cells (the cells that eventually go on to form gametes - sperm and eggs) and then into sperm.
You see, vertebrates specify their germ cells very, very early in development. In zebrafish, primordial germ cells containing high levels of RNA coding for a special gene called vasa
are known to exist within the first 13 cycles of cell division, this is before even the three basic cell layers have been established (endo- meso- and ecto-derm), thus making it one of the first major cell specification events currently known. In mice, this sort of specification - that is to say, instructing certain embryonic cells to be germ cells - occurs within 7 hours of fertilization, again extremely early in development.
Hold with me, the cloak and dagger is ahead; you will not be disappointed.
The upshot of this is that these germ cells, the cells that will go on to form testicles and ovaries in humans, are determined and set aside very early during embryonic development, which means there aren't a whole lot of "steps" to get to that state. Put another way, this means that researchers culturing embryonic cells trying to coax them into the germ cell state will not face too many steps in order to arrive at germ cells starting from your standard embryonic cell.
This would be contrasted with a highly derived cell, for example, a neuron functioning in your retina; it takes a dizzying number of steps to produce something this far along down the line and highly derived: you'd have to give the embryonic cell in the dish signals 1.) to instruct it to assume an ectodermal state, 2.) then to become neural ectoderm, 3.) then to become neural cells like those that form the optic vesicle, 4.) then to become specifically part of of the neural anlagen that forms the primary neurulation of the optic vesicle, 5.) then to mature into a functioning, multi-layered retinal cell. (That is, assuming there was no shortcut - if you could find a gene or genes that enabled cells to adopt the mature retinal neuron state directly from an embryonic non-specified state, it would be an incredibly fortuitous short-cut; however there's no reason to think that such a shortcut exists, that the embryonic cell is capable of responding directly to gene activity that would confer the retinal neuron identity to it.) This task is even more daunting when you consider the known role that neighboring cells play in determining how and which cells become retinal neurons during early eye development - in other words you can't just grow a clump of retinal neurons - you need to grow up an entire support system for those cells. How could a researcher hope to mimic that in culture conditions?
I'm digressing - the point is that it's hard. It's way, way
beyond what we can do in a lab for probably the next 50 years at least.
But, with primordial germ cells, it appears to be only a couple of steps away from the native and indetermined embryonic cell type (aka "ball of cells"). Meaning you have only to destroy the embryo, harvest the embryo's inner cell mass to culture for embryonic cells, and once they're in culture conditions, you add some kind of treatment to the culture, inducing the cells to adopt the fate of germ cells. I'm not familiar with the technique the researchers used - it could have more steps, but the point is that it's obviously manageable since they accomplished it.
Once you have these germ cells, it's only a short step again to coax some of them to produce functioning sperm, which can then be used to make another embryo. You tell a paper about it, then they start acting like a cure to infertility is right around the corner*.
Suppose, just suppose (I know this would never happen, but we're in "it'll never happen"-land, so just go along with me), that two lesbians want to have a child. Instead of approaching their gay male friend for a masturbation sample, and then only having at most the child be derived from one of the women, suppose they paid Dr. Stacks-of-Cash for a procedure where they nabbed a cell from one of the womans' legs, then performed the aforementioned somatic cell nuclear transfer, thus making a cloned embryo from one of them. But now here's the kicker: they coax the cells from that embryo into becoming germ cells - specifically germ cells to produce sperm. They then take this sperm from the first lady's cloned cells, mix it with the other woman's egg in your standard, garden-variety IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedure... and... you have it - two women making a child together. Each a biological parent as sure as your own mom and pop.
If you close your eyes and wish real hard (maybe try some of that new-age self-actualization and manifestation bullshit
), you can almost forget the act of barbarous murder and rape of nature it took to bring about your child. The laughable reality would that it would be the egg-donor's child, but it would be the other's grand-child since the cloned embryo was the actual source of sperm for the child produced, and the cloned embryo was derived from the woman, thus skipping a generation.It is a most disgustingly elegant form of savagery.
A sly twist of molecules, a sly trampling of the first embryo's human rights to exist as a created and existing human. In fact, it's too bad the middle finger isn't one of the first things to form on embryos, so they could at least express themselves as they are sucked apart by microscopic needles to extract their oh-so-useful cells.
But hey, when we're murdering our unborn to actually make our medicine and children, chances are, the real Sickness isn't physical, it's spiritual. Just a hunch. Hey - what's that light that just flipped on in the dash...? Oh, shit...
*Infertility? If a man is using this technique to produce a child with his wife, he is hardly being cured of his infertility. All that's being done is that he's making a cloned embryo, using it for sperm, then tossing it aside. That's not an infertility treatment at all. It's the creation of sperm from a source other than the man's testicles.
The emphasis on infertility
seems to do nothing but shift focus away from the reality of the technique and give the reader a false impression that infertility is actually being treated.
Infertility isn't really being treated unless you injected the sperm-producing cells into your testicles. (or ovaries...? The mind boggles at the idea of ejaculating ovaries... Perhaps it would find a strong demand and market among feminists who yet desire for themselves this virile power?)
Sorry, it's super late and I'm not doing much in the way of checking grammar and spelling. Deal with the typos! Consider it a luxury that you exist and can deal with typos; that you weren't hijacked by a scientist hours after your creation and be forced to produce sperm...Down, down, down you're rollin'
Watch the blood float in the muddy sewer
Take another hit
And bury your brother
And we die young
The faster we run...
Alice in Chains - We Die Young