Scientists Say Embryos Could Soon Be Created From Skin Cells

Motherless babies possible after scientists discover a method of creating offspring without the need of a female egg

An image showing the injection of sperm into a parthenogenetic mouse embryo. Photograph: Dr Tony Perry/University of Bath/PA

According to scientists, babies could soon be born from embryos made with skin cells instead of eggs.

New research from the University of Bath hints at a possibility that could transform not only efforts to save endangered animals, but also human fertility treatment including male couples who want to create a baby

The Guardian reports:

The team of researchers proposed the futuristic scenario after producing a litter of healthy mice with a technique that bypasses the normal step of fertilising an egg cell with sperm.

The study hints that eggs may not be unique in their ability to form embryos with sperm, and that skin and other cells in the body could even take their place.

“Our work challenges the dogma, held since early embryologists first observed mammalian eggs around 1827 and observed fertilisation 50 years later, that only an egg cell fertilised with a sperm cell can result in live mammalian birth,” said Tony Perry, an embryologist and lead researcher on the project at Bath University.

“What we’re talking about are different ways of making embryos. Imagine that you could take skin cells and make embryos from them? This would have all kinds of utility,” he added.

The potential to use skin cells instead of eggs remains highly speculative for now. But if researchers can overcome the remaining hurdles, of which there are many, they could in theory create embryos for women who cannot make their own eggs because of old age, or after cancer treatment that damages fertility.

But the technology would also pave the way for male couples to have embryos made by fusing a skin cell from one man with the sperm of another. An embryo could even be made by merging a skin cell with sperm from the same man.

Perhaps more immediately, the research might help conservationists to maintain populations of endangered animals by giving them an alternative way to make embryos from rare creatures that can be carried to term in surrogate mothers.