One of the key goals in developmental and reproductive biology has been achieved this week which could have incredible implications on both this planet and others. Life has been created in a Petri dish.
In a paper published just this week in Nature, Japanese researchers have been able to grow mouse eggs entirely In vitro. Fibroblasts (skin cells which produce collagen) were reprogrammed to make eggs.
While it is true that cells have been reprogrammed to different types of cell in the past. Creating eggs is much more tricky. Eggs are the ultimate stem-cell, able to create all the bits necessary to an organism from raw genetic blueprints. They are far more flexible than stem cells.
This is very solid work and an important step in the field
– Developmental Biologist Diana laird
This ability cannot be underrated in developmental biology, and has long been sought after. Eggs originate from primordial germ cells, these cells migrate into the gonads and become primary oocytes, which is a cell that undergoes meiotic division to form an ovum, which is a mature female reproductive cell that can form into an embryo (usually after fertilisation from a male). After 11 days in a lab dish, the eggs were mature and ready for fertilisation! They were planted into the uteri of female mice and six healthy young were born. If this could be successfully applied to human cells than eggs could be freely available for research into the molecular mechanisms underlying totipotency and the production of oocytes. this could eventually lead to infertility treatments.
There were some issues of genes ‘miss-firing’ in the created eggs. However, it is clear that we are in a very preliminary stage of this research and only time will tell.
Now, if you would join me for a digression into speculation..
Any fan of Interstellar will know plan B was the backup plan to getting humans off of our dying Earth. Where they resorted to frozen ova kept aboard the Endurance to populate a new planet through Gargantua that was deemed habitable by Dr Edmunds. Now the idea was to land on this planet raise ten or so children from equipment onboard the landers, following this surrogacy and normal pregnancy would result in further generations. The growth becomes exponential and within thirty years or so there could be a colony of hundreds.
The greatest obstacle that a human colony would face (assuming for a minute that we’ve landed on a perfectly habitable planet and have all the necessary technology and resources that we would need to survive for an extended period of time time) would be low genetic diversity. Low genetic diversity reduces a populations ability to deal with changing conditions, for example if a new disease started, this disease would select for those that have a resistance to this disease. A large genetic diversity ensures that one or a few members of a population will hold this resistance. However, a population with a low genetic diversity can be completely wiped out from this disease. This risk of extinction to a population with low genetic diversity is predicted by evolutionary theory.
The ability to create eggs from, in the case of the mice in this experiment; skin cells, or any cell would remove the issue low genetic diversity, without needing to take a bank of already fertilised eggs along, and could allow for a self-efficient colony to overcome this issue to thrive on a new planet.