Test tubes

With new rules complicating male-female relationships, scientists claim they may have a solution that will allow the human race to continue – in vitro gametogenesis, the manipulation of skin cells to create a baby.

IVG has been successfully tested by Japanese researchers on mice, which produced healthy babies derived from skin cells.

The process begins by taking the skin cells from the mouse’s tail and re-programing them to become induced pluripotent stem cells. These manipulated cells are able to grow different kinds of cells, and are then used to grow eggs and sperm, which are then fertilized in the lab. The resulting embryos are then implanted in a womb.

Although similar to in vitro fertilization, IVG eliminates the step of needing pre-existing egg and sperm, and instead creates these gametes.

But many experts in the reproductive field are skeptical of its potential outcomes and ethical compromises.

“It gives me an unsettled feeling because we don’t know what this could lead to,” said Paul Knoepfler, a stem-cell researcher at the University of California, Davis.

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Knoepfler noted that some of the potential repercussions of IVG could turn into “cloning” or “designer babies.” Other dangers could include the “Brad Pitt scenario,” in which celebrity’s skin cells retrieved from random places, like hotel rooms, could be used to create a baby.

Potentially anyone’s skin cells could be used to create a baby, even without their knowledge or consent.

In an issue of Science Translational Medicine earlier this year, a trio of academics – a Harvard Law professor, the dean of Harvard Medical School and a medical science professor at Brown – wrote that IVG “may raise the specter of ’embryo farming’ on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life.”

Although IVG has proven successful in mice, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out before it is tested on humans. It will take at least another decade of bioengineering work, researchers say.

In the meantime, those who want to make a baby the old-fashioned way will need to pay attention to the ever-changing rules governing courtship.

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