It’s the stuff of science fiction. As seems to be the case so often these days when reading about the latest scientific research, scientists in Spain have announced the results of a mind-boggling experiment. They now have the ability to make artificial sperm.
This research will likely be of intense interest to the estimated one out of seven couples who experience difficulty conceiving naturally. Artificial sperm and eggs could potentially be revolutionary for many people.
The researchers credit two Nobel Prize-winning scientists with providing the inspiration for their research. Shinya Yamanaka (Japan) and John Gordon (U.K.) were recognized in 2012 for their discovery that mature human cells could be reprogrammed into cells that can become any type of tissue.
Building on the earlier research, the Spanish scientists were able to turn human skin cells into germ cells by adding a “cocktail of genes.” The research continued when Chinese scientists earlier this year were able to successfully fertilize mouse eggs with test tube sperm cells.
Researchers caution that there is a long road ahead yet before they are ready to start helping people conceive with artificial sperm. One challenge is the regulations that govern creating artificial embryos. A second challenge is that while they could now make artificial sperm, another step would be required to enable the sperm to fertilize an egg. Finally, there are the usual ethical questions that arise with any branch of rapidly developing science, particularly when it concerns things of this nature.
Successfully developing artificial sperm capable of fertilization still requires more research and testing. It is also not known what, if any, effects the use of artificial sperm would have on the baby created with this technique.
Despite the remaining challenges and questions, the success that researchers have achieved so far is mind bending.