For the first time, scientists grew an embryo in a lab using only stem cells, no sperm or eggs required.
It’s still very early days for the research, and it has some big problems to iron out, but it could potentially pave the way towards creating viable embryos just from cultured cells.
The mouse embryos weren’t perfect, according to OneZero, and none of them developed into living, breathing, lab-grown mice.
The lab-grown embryos developed into structures resembling the early stages of development, but also had structural glitches like poorly-organized tissues, according to the research, which was published in the journal Cell on Thursday.
“These studies will help us to better understand the very beginnings of life; how early on in life a single cell can give rise to millions of cells and how they are assembled in space and time to give rise to a fully developed organism. Importantly, this work avoids the use of natural embryos and is scalable,” Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, study author and professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, explained in a statement.
But all the same, the study hints at a future in which sex cells are no longer required to create living organisms.
“Ultimately, although [it] remains science fiction at this stage, it’ll be fantastic if we can achieve the goal of generating viable embryos without sperm or eggs in the future,” Eli Adashi, who didn’t work on the new study and who used to be the dean of biomedical sciences at Brown University, told OneZero. “But there is still a long way to go since there is still a lot of unknowns during early development.”
“The goal of this research at this stage is certainly not ‘end of sex’ for reproduction,” project leader Jun Wu of the UT Southwestern Medical Center, told OneZero. “The primary goal is to understand early development.”
Other researchers working in the field have described the research as “wonderful,” “significant,” and “outstanding,” although they warn there are still many hurdles to overcome before we see this research being applied.