Woman-Made Sperm?

The Independent reports that women may be able to produce sperm, with substantial assistance from a laboratory.

Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

One wonders why lesbians having kids is the most significant outgrowth of this? Wouldn’t it likely lead to more births among married heterosexual couples where the man is unable to produce sufficient quality or volume of sperm?

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman’s bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue. The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

Which, of course, isn’t nearly as significant as a few lesbians having kids.

But the results also raise the prospect of being able to take bone-marrow tissue from women and coaxing the stem cells within the female tissue to develop into sperm cells, said Professor Karim Nayernia of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Creating sperm from women would mean they would only be able to produce daughters because the Y chromosome of male sperm would still be needed to produce sons. The latest research brings the prospect of female-only conception a step closer.

Not to mention de facto sex selection.

“Theoretically is it possible,” Professor Nayernia said. “The problem is whether the sperm cells are functional or not. I don’t think there is an ethical barrier, so long as it’s safe. We are in the process of applying for ethical approval. We are preparing now to apply to use the existing bone marrow stem cell bank here in Newcastle. We need permission from the patient who supplied the bone marrow, the ethics committee and the hospital itself.”

Surely there are is an ethical barrier here? It may turn out to be totally safe and I doubt so many people would use this method of fertilization as to create a severe imbalance in the gender ratio of the population. Still, those are ethical issues which need to be mulled over a bit.

Not much cogitation along those lines is yet taking place in the blogosphere. Don Surber muses about issues of wordplay and the impact on the plot of B-sci fi movies. Sister Toldjah sees this as a feminist’s wet dream. And Ogged thinks this might force us to rethink what it means to be a good parent.

UPDATE: USAT’s Mike Carney thinks the headline writers are getting a bit carried away.

Scientists say they have managed for the first time to create artificial sperm cells, a development that the popular press has seized upon as a sign that sterile men — and even women — may be able to fertilize eggs in the future.

The researchers turned adult stem cells from bone marrow into immature sperm cells. They’re excited about the discovery, but say that it could take three to five years to develop a process whereby the cells develop into the more mature sperm cells found in the testes. “This finding is of interest but we really need to be very cautious about the interpretation,” a leading biologist tells BBC News.

No one seems to have shared that word of caution with the headline writers on Fleet Street.

As always, it’s worth taking early press accounts (and blog postings) on cutting edge scientific research with several grains of salt. Journals have incentive to hype the novelty of the findings to get press coverage and the press has every incentive to further hype the hype in order to generate buzz. That, and the fact that most people reporting on cutting edge science don’t understand much of it, otherwise they’d probably be doing it.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Health, Science & Technology,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MikeM says:

    Once again, research with ADULT STEM CELLS is producing results far ahead of fetal stem cell projects.

  2. Stormy70 says:

    I would think that you would still need to get the sperm from someone outside your family to conceive a child. Would incest-type genetic anomalies occur to a baby conceived by the same woman, providing both the sperm and the egg? It is hard to see how this would help married couples trying to conceive, in that case.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Presumably, even infertile men have bone marrow. If not, having kids should be the least of their concerns.

  4. ‘…it could take three to five years to develop a process whereby the cells develop into the more mature sperm cells found in the testes.’

    Hah. I could do it in 3 days.

  5. randall says:

    WOW! What a concept. Lets genetically engineer males out the population. If there were no more men what would the women’s magazines bitch-n-cry about? I’m no scientist by any means, but I just can’t imagine this working as planned. This would give new meaning to the phrase “Who’s your daddy”. Could a woman sue herself for child support if it did not workout? Lets be very careful with this one, no matter what your belief system is lets not play God.