The Corner

Scientists Turn Stem Cells into Sex Cells

This week, researchers working with mice reported in the journal Nature that they had successfully used stem cells to create oocytes (egg cells) for the first time. A similar approach could presumably be developed eventually for human oocytes.

The scientists, from Kyoto University, used induced pluripotent stem cells — cells derived from adult tissues that are similar to embryonic stem cells — to create the oocytes, which were then fertilized and developed into adult mice. (They also successfully performed the procedure starting with embryonic stem cells, although that approach would not likely be useful for human reproductive purposes, since embryonic stem cells, unlike induced pluripotent stem cells, would not allow IVF patients to create oocytes that would be genetically identical to their own natural sex cells.)

Techniques like this, allowing scientists to manipulate cells and tissues into the building blocks of life, are disquieting steps toward transforming reproduction into the manufacture of children. The artificial creation of human sex cells has many troubling implications for the future, not the least of which is the way it could facilitate the genetic engineering of human beings. But such techniques may also hold promise for ameliorating some of the ethically troubling practices now involved in assisted reproduction. Many infertile women today rely on donated eggs, which can only be collected by subjecting donors to dangerous hormone treatments. And as Jacqueline Merrill noted in a recent review in The New Atlantis, using donated eggs or sperm separates children from their genetic parents, the donors. Employing adult stem cells to treat infertility and avoid the use of donated eggs could actually be a way to restore the integrity of the family and of human reproduction.

Ensuring that technologies like this are used in ways that serve the human good rather than demean human dignity is a central task of bioethics, a task that calls for not just a clear understanding of the science but also public deliberation and, if necessary, regulation.

—Brendan Foht is assistant editor ofThe New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More