Creating a baby from human sperm and eggs using stem cells engineered in a petri dish from adult skin sounds like the makings of a science fiction novel, but it may be as close as two years away from actually happening. Late last year Azim Surani and his researchers in England and Israel determined that they could use human skin cells (from either gender) to create stem cells — something that they had been able to previously accomplish with mice. Now the same team claims that these primordial germ cells, made from the skin cells of ten different donors, can be made into human egg and sperm cells; down the road this could eventually result in the conception of a healthy baby using genetic material from same sex donors as well as from opposite sex donors. Same-sex groups have expressed an early interest in these developments, which one day may also be an effective way for patients who are infertile to become parents using their own genetic material. The breakthrough may also help doctors treat other illnesses, especially age-related ones, since the chromosome that the scientists discovered to be crucial in “reprogramming” cells to change from skin cells to primordial germ cells can also reset cells to be free of some of the genetic mutations that occur as we age as a result of environmental toxins or certain lifestyle choices like smoking. Let the ethics debates begin!
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