Friday, January 30, 2009

Not Over the Hill Yet, Baby!

From the journal Stem Cells: UCLA researchers have managed to program human induced pluripotent stem cells into the precursors of human reproductive cells -- eggs and sperm. As quoted in Biosingularity:
Theoretically, an infertile patient’s skin cells, for example, could be taken and reprogrammed into iPS cells, which, like embryonic stem cells, have the ability to become every cell type in the human body. Those cells could then be transformed into germ line precursor cells that would eventually become eggs and sperm. Clark cautioned, however, that scientists are still many years from using these cells in patients to treat infertility. There is still much to be learned about the process of making high quality germ cells in the lab.

In another important finding, Clark’s team discovered that the germ line cells generated from human iPS cells were not the same as the germ line cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Certain vital regulatory processes were not performed correctly in the human iPS derived germ cells, said Clark, an assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology.

So it’s crucial, Clark contends, that work continue on the more controversial human embryonic stem cells that come from donated, excess material from in vitro fertilization that would otherwise be destroyed.

When germ cells are formed, they need to undergo a specific series of biological processes, an essential one being the regulation of imprinted genes. This is required for the germ cells to function correctly. If these processes are not performed the resulting eggs or sperm, are at high risk for not working as they should. This has significant consequences, given that the desired outcome is a healthy child. _Biosingularity
In other words, women past menopause or who have had their ovaries removed and men without testicles or with very low sperm counts will soon be able to produce viable sperm and eggs with the best of the twenty-somethings! Yes, I know that most people of a certain age do not want to have more children. But modern women often pursue their careers through the ages of optimal reproduction, and find that it's too late to have children by the time they feel they are ready. There are many other situations where persons might want to have their own children but can no longer produce the germ cells to do the job.

Eventually we will have artificial wombs that will take early embryos and support healthy gestation all the way to birth. By then, most of us will probably be living in good condition to 150 or beyond. Some may live long enough to raise three generations of offspring to adulthood. Why not, if you enjoy it and you can do it well?

Because by then, the question will not be "where will we put all these people?" The question will be, " where will we ever get enough people to do all the things that need to be done in this big universe?"



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