Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Frontiers: Scientists Make Sperm and Eggs from Stem Cells

Yesterday's online edition of Nature revealed that researchers at Stanford have determined the genes that coax human embryonic stem cells into becoming cells that form eggs and sperms.  As a Reuters article explains, researcher Dr. Kehkooi Kee was able to pinpoint germ cells (cells that differentiate into either eggs or sperm in the human body) that developed from embryonic stem cells by adding a gene that fluoresced green when germ cells were active.  Once the green fluoresced, indicating the formation of a germ cell, researchers began silencing and overexpressing genes to determine which ones were most involved in the transformation of stem cells to immature germ cells.  Among the most important genes in this transformation turned out to be DAZ, DAZL and BOULE.  Researchers may redo the process not with human embryo cells, but with a sliver of human skin.  This discovery has major implications for the definition of the family and the treatment of infertile couples, especially those who cannot produce their own viable sperm and eggs.  In theory, this technique would allow people to make babies without contributing their actual eggs or sperm.  Science, once again, provocatively presents new issues in family law, public policy, and ethics.     

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MR

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