Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


The Fertility Show


 

Key genes for sperm and egg formation identified

02 November 2009

By Dr Rebecca Robey

Appeared in BioNews 532

US scientists have succeeded in creating early-stage sperm and eggs cells from human embryonic stem cells (ES cells). By studying these artificially created {GLINK sperm and eggs, the research team have identified three key genes that are involved in the development of these cells. The findings, published in the journal Nature, may one day lead to a cure for some causes of infertility.

In humans, eggs and sperm are formed in the ovaries and testes from germ cells. Because germ cells are created in the very early embryo, the development of germ cells has been very difficult to study and little is known about the genetic processes involved. The new study, by a team at Stanford University, California, US, identified a cocktail of proteins that stimulated human ES cells into forming first germ cells and then early-stage sperm and egg cells. They then used genetic modification techniques to turn different genes on and off in the ES cells, and observed how this influenced the development of the germ cells and their maturation into sperm and eggs. They identified one gene called DAZL that is crucial to germ cell formation and two other genes called DAZ and BOULE that are involved in the later stages of egg and sperm development.

Professor Renee Reijo Pera, who led the team, said: 'our goal is to understand how you make eggs and sperm. We know almost nothing about human reproductive development, and this gives us a new way to investigate it. The hope is some day to help those who are infertile'.

It is believed that many cases of infertility are caused by underlying genetic problems that affect the development of germ cells or their ability to become mature sperm or eggs. This advance in recreating and studying these processes in the laboratory may eventually lead to ways of curing these underlying problems. Professor Reijo Pera explained: 'Figuring out the genetic "recipe" needed to develop human germ cells in the laboratory will give us the tools we need to trace what's going wrong for [infertile] people'.

This research raises the possibility that in the future, scientists may be able to create fully mature sperm and egg cells from ES cells or even adult skin cells that had first been modified to behave like ES cells (so-called induced pluripotent stem cells). In theory, this could become the ultimate cure for infertility. However, Professor Reijo Pera said that the in vitro derived (IVD) reproductive cells are currently 'highly genetically modified' and 'it would not be appropriate to use them to make an embryo'. The use of IVD gametes in reproduction is banned in the UK.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Nature | 29 October 2009
 
Scientists ‘five years’ from producing artificial sperm and eggs
The Times | 29 October 2009
 
Daily Mail | 29 October 2009
 
The Telegraph | 29 October 2009
 
The Guardian | 29 October 2009
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

12 January 2015 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
For the first time, researchers have succeeded in creating human sperm and egg precursor cells from stem cells...
15 October 2012 - by Chris Baldacci 
A gene mutation has been associated with sperm motility and production, offering new insights into male infertility....
08 August 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Scientists in Japan have successfully generated viable sperm cells from embryonic stem cells in mice. The sperm cells were able to fertilise eggs and for the first time this produced healthy, fertile offspring...
09 August 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Immature mouse eggs have been successfully matured and fertilised in the laboratory for the first time. Eggs from women undergoing cancer therapy were also successfully matured using the new method, offering hope for some women suffering infertility such as cancer patients made infertile by treatment...

10 March 2008 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Scientists in Newcastle can now produce early stage human sperm cells from stem cells in the laboratory. This research is important for furthering our understanding of human development. If human eggs could be produced using similar methods in future, then this could potentially allow babies to be created without the...
26 February 2008 - by Professor Alison Murdoch 
There was a lively audience at this public meeting held at the Centre for Life in Newcastle on 12 February, an evening debate organised by Progress Educational Trust. This is perhaps not surprising given the recent media speculation and the current political debate about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill...
26 February 2008 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
An article published recently in the New Scientist alerted readers to ongoing developments in the creation of 'female' sperm and 'male' eggs (1). If - and it is a big if - this technological breakthrough ever comes about, it is suggested that such artificial gametes could offer the possibility of genetic reproduction...

HAVE YOUR SAY
Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Moving the Boundaries of Human Reproduction

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Jacques Cohen

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Andy Greenfield

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross


BOOK HERE

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation