Skin cells are being used to create artificial sperm and eggs

Posted: December 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

Scientists are now creating primordial germ cells (precursors to egg and sperm) with human stem cells and even skin cells. This new work,published inCelltoday, takes us beyond what was previously just done using stem cells.

One of the first events in the early development of both mice and men is the creation of primordial germ cells (PGCs). After an egg is fertilized by sperm, embryonic stem cells begin to differentiate into various basic cell types that make up the fetus. A small number of these stem cellsdevelop into primordial germ cells, which will go on to become egg or sperm. Germ cells are immortal in the sense that they provide an enduring link between all generations, carrying genetic information from one generation to the next,Cambridges Azim Suranisays in auniversity statement.

Researchers have now figured out how to reprogram cells to act like embryonic stem cells. These induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have been used to develop humanretinasandintestines, for example, according to IFLScience. Researchers have also created iPS cells that could differentiate into primordial germ cells, but its only been successful in rodents.

Now, a team of researchers from the U.K. and Israel traced the genetic chain of events that directs a human stem cell to develop into a primordial germ cell. This stage in our development is called specification,and once PGCs become specified,they continue developing toward precursor sperm cells or ova pretty much on autopilot,Jacob Hanna from the Weizmann Institute of Sciencesays in anews release.

A master gene called SOX17 works to direct stem cells which in previous studies was found to direct stem cells into becoming lung, gut and pancreas cells. But the gene working as part of primordial germ cell specification is a new development.

The international team followed their discovery by actually making primordial germ cells in the lab. Using both embryonic stem cells and iPS cells (reprogrammed adult skin cells) from both males and females, the researchersmade sex cell precursors with up to 40 percent efficiency. When they compared the protein markers of their new, lab-grown PGCs with real PGCs collected from aborted fetuses,Nature reports, they were found to be very similar.

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Skin cells are being used to create artificial sperm and eggs

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