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From Skin to Eggs

May 18, 2017

Now that grades are turned in, I can take a moment off from the Indivisible site that’s occupied my blogging since November, to highlight a momentous event, long foreseen: Conversion of skin cells to eggs. For the first time, molecular biologists have converted mouse fibroblasts (a type of skin cell) into pluripotent stem cells (cells that have lost the skin-type specialization) which then were converted into egg cells. The eggs were then fertilized in vitro (IVF) with normal sperm, and produced viable mouse pups.

For humans they say skin-to-egg is maybe five years away. If every skin cell could be a baby, will we outlaw dandruff?

The details are more intriguing yet, as describe by Katsuhiko Hayashi in his original report.

The full process actually required two types of cells: embryonic stem cells (providing helper genes), and the skin cell-derived stem cells to become eggs. The requirement of embryonic helpers is one aspect that will prove challenging to perform in humans.

For egg production, the two types of cells are aggregated to form ovary-like tissues, “ovaries in a dish.” Within these artificial ovaries, the skin-cell derived cells differentiate (become specialized) to form functionally normal oocytes (egg cells). Remarkably, the egg cells undergo normal development including exclusion of one set of chromosomes within a tiny polar body. The successful fertilization rate is about

The study’s author describes further implications of their work here. The timing of human egg production will involve several months, and the requirement for supporting embryonic cells is a hurdle. But in the past such requirements for stem cell procedures have been superseded by chemical treatments that mimic the cells’ developmental signals.

What medical applications could this technique have, if developed in humans? Such techniques might lead to uniparental humans (the egg and sperm derived from one person); or to humans with multiple parents providing different chromosomes. One thing is clear, the role of conception in human biology would be shifted, with unknowable results for our concept of what is human.

  1. mithriltabby permalink
    May 19, 2017 3:24 am

    What I introduced in a science fiction game was “DNA paparazzi”, who would obtain cells from famous people and sell either clones at a very early stage of development (ready for implantation) or gametes, so anyone could raise a copy of their favorite star or have a kid with them. This creeped out my players, as intended.

  2. May 25, 2017 5:27 pm

    okay, with CRISPR you can easily turn mouse skin into baby mice.

    Now, how about those frozen mammoths that keep being found in Siberia ….?


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