A team of Scientists from China have claimed they have found a way for women to have babies without men by creating artificial sperm.
The scientists say they have created healthy mouse babies by injecting laboratory-made sperm into eggs to produce mouse offspring.
It involves a cocktail of chemicals acting as an ‘artificial sperm’ to trick a human egg into forming an embryo.
The mouse cells produced were technically “spermatids” (undeveloped sperm that lack tails and cannot swim).
Yet when they were injected into mouse eggs, mimicking a common IVF technique called Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), they delivered viable embryos and healthy, fertile babies.
Researchers say the groundbreaking technology could be used to help women whose husbands are infertile but who do not want to use donor sperm.
Any babies born from the process would be female and genetically identical to their mother.
The scientists began with stem cells taken from mouse embryos which were exposed to a carefully mixed cocktail of chemicals.
This triggered their transformation into primordial germ cells, the first step on the developmental path to becoming sperm.
Next, the germ cells were exposed to testicular cells and testosterone in an attempt to mimic the natural environment of the testes.
When the resulting spermatids were injected into mouse eggs, they proved capable of producing embryos that developed normally.
The stunning discovery has alarmed medical ethics campaigners, who described it as turning nature on its head. Extremely, this could lead to the science fiction nightmare of a female-dominated society where men have little or no role.
The news also creates a legal minefield for UK authorities which govern fertility treatments, because British laws do not cover the creation of an embryo without sperm therefore making it illegal.
British experts have therefore called for the results to be independently verified and pointed out that any practical application is likely to be a long way off.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which governs IVF research in Britain, said a new law on parthenogenic embryos may be needed.
This would probably be that no research could be carried out without permission and it certainly would not be licensed for clinical use unless it was proven safe and there were no ethical concerns.
Co-leader of the research, Dr Jiahao Sha, from Nanjing Medical University, published the results in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Stem Cell.
If proven to be safe and effective in humans, our platform could potentially generate fully functional sperm for artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization techniques.
Dr Jiahao said,
Because currently available treatments do not work for many couples, we hope that our approach could substantially improve success rates for male infertility.
Scientists have previously taken early steps in the process of creating artificial sperm and eggs in the laboratory.
Infertility affects around 15% of couples and can be traced to the man in about a third of cases. A major cause of male infertility is the failure of pre-cursor cells in the testes to undergo a special type of cell division called meiosis.