The future is synthetically designed in a lab.
Cloned sperm is about to take a big leap, and scientists believe that an “army of half-cloned mice” will result in fast tracking research in cancer and medicine.
Scientists in mainland China have successfully mass produced high-quality artificial sperm for the first time.
The man-made sperm do not have tails and cannot swim, looking more like eggs than natural sperm, but they can fertilise an egg and pass on genetic information…
“Our man-made sperms cells can be used to generate an army of half-cloned mice with ease and efficiency. These half-cloned mice will fight on the frontline in battles against cancer and other genetic health issues,” said professor Li Jinsong, lead scientist on the project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences.
The researchers injected an artificial sperm into a natural egg. The resulting mouse was half-clone, with 50 per cent of its genes coming from one of thousands of sperm cultured in a test dish.
[Using a powerful gene-editing tool together with the man-made sperm] the scientists could now explore the function of many genes simultaneously, while in the past it could only be done one at a time.
It will be genetic engineering in a whole new era.
Once science masters this ‘army of mice’, the human genome will be quickly edited with artificial traits as well, in a rapid assembly line fashion.
But the technology to that end has until now been problematic, with low quality results that have yet to be even close to perfected:
Man-made sperm have been produced by scientists in labs around the world for years, but the output remained scarce.[…]
“We thought it would be great if the sperm could be cultured to multiply endlessly like normal cells,” Li said.
They achieved this by putting the sperm in an egg with the nucleus removed, which would turn into a haploid embryonic stem cell with functions similar to sperm.
But quality of these sperm was a problem. For instance, only about 2 per cent of the fertilised eggs could develop into healthy half-cloned mice.
They are a long way from getting it right, and those with these traits may have unexpected side effects.
Buyer beware, it may not be ready for market.