Friday, April 13, 2007

Sperm cells from bone marrow

Might this turn the gay-marriage debate on its head?

Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman's bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue.

The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

So it's a fertility treatment, that just happens to allow lesbians to conceive a child biologically related to both parents. It's also part of a larger effort to take bone marrow stem cells and try to coax them to differentiate into different kinds of cells.

It won't work for gay male couples, because they lack ovaries and eggs.

Also, because of the lack of a Y chromosome, all children of such unions will be female.

The science is still very young; they haven't actually made viable sperm yet. But it's intriguing.

Update: I've come up with one wrinkle to this potential procedure that raises ethical questions. It appears that it could allow a woman to produce a child entirely by herself: combining an egg from her ovaries with sperm taken from her marrow.

I'm not sure that's exactly unethical -- it's really just a do-it-yourself sperm-donor kit -- but given the inbreeding problem, it's probably a very bad idea. It would be banned for the same reason cousins aren't allowed to marry.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because science enables us to do something....doesn't mean we should. I have a real ethical problem with this.

JP5

4/13/2007 6:23 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

What ethical problem is that?

4/13/2007 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sean ,
For me the ethical issue involved is this. Who is the biological father ? some scientific process ?
some bone marrow ?
While lesbian couples have every right to have kids of their own. This is taking it a little too far.
We will become a very artificial society if we have such children in our midst.
Having agreed , I am thinking of the kind of crowd that will be radically opposed to this. It will be the same crowd that will gladly fund research to isolate the "gay gene"
GK

4/14/2007 10:33 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

GK: I suppose technically the biological "father" would be the woman the sperm cells came from.

But I don't understand why that question is an ethical issue. A legal and technical one, maybe, but not an ethical one.

4/14/2007 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can just hear the conversation on the playground now:

"Who is your Daddy?"

"My Daddy is my Mother?"

"Huh??? How can your Daddy be your Mother?"

"Because of some scientific experiment, my Daddy is my Mother"

"No, really....who's your Daddy?"

4/14/2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Er, so what?

4/16/2007 7:40 AM  
Blogger Erica M said...

The "who's your father?" question wouldn't be any different than it is now for the children of lesbian parents.

I'm intrigued by the seeking of "ethical permission." Who decides and how does that work?

4/16/2007 11:54 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

This is occuring in Britain, and there appears to be a government entity: The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

A more general answer is that many research institutions, such as public universities and hospitals, have ethics boards to handle questions like this.

4/16/2007 12:12 PM  

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