A groundbreaking study into mammalian fertilisation and reproduction has produced fascinating results that could have far reaching implications. It’s applications could range from preserving fertility for women beyond a certain age, or who underwent severe cancer or other treatment that otherwise could have left them infertile – it could also lead to gay couples being able to procreate with each other with no need for a woman or her egg.
The study was conducted by scientists from the University of Bath, and found that the role of the female egg in fertilisation has probably been grossly exaggerated. The study carried out tests in mice which showed that fusing sperm with cells from other body parts, such as skin cells, could very well lead to conception just as much as if it was an egg.
“The experiment used “parthenogenote” mouse embryos that were created by scientists. Those are all-female embryos made without any sperm, created by tricking an egg into developing as if it was fertilised.” the Independent reports.
“Usually, those embryos die after a few days because they are not properly programmed. But in the new studies, scientists found that they could inject them with sperm and transform them into normal embryos – and let them go on to produce healthy offspring.
“The study produced 30 mouse pups with a success rate of 24 per cent. That is far above the 1 or 2 per cent success rate usually found in the traditional method of cloning, by transferring DNA to donated eggs.”
Now, the ‘parthenogenote’ embryos are made from mitotic cells, ordinary human cells such as those found in the skin. Theoretically, if the embryos could be fertilised, so could these other cells.
It’s a finding that requires more research but which looks potentially exciting.
“Our work challenges the dogma, held since early embryologists first observed mammalian eggs around 1827 and observed fertilisation 50 years later, that only an egg cell fertilised with a sperm cell can result in live mammalian birth,” said lead scientist Tony Perry, a molecular embryologist from the University of Bath.
“The practical applications of this as the technology stands at the moment are not very broad,” Dr Perry added.
But: “….potentially one day we might be able to extend what we’ve shown in these mitotic cells to other mitotic cells.”