Scientists are making significant progress in the field of in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), which could potentially allow for creation of a new person from skin or blood cells without the need for traditional sex. IVG goes beyond in vitro fertilization (IVF), which combines eggs and sperm in a test tube, as it does not require raw eggs or sperm. The potential applications of IVG are far-reaching and include the cure for various types of infertility, the ability to slow or even turn off biological clocks, and embryo selection for desired traits.
At a recent three-day meeting at the National Academies of Sciences, researchers shared their work on IVG, advocates discussed their vision for its potential uses, and ethicists raised concerns. As per an article published in USA Today, some experts believe that IVG could eventually lead to the ability to create a “perfect” race or baby, raising ethical concerns about pursuing a “perfect” generation. There are also concerns about the commercialization of IVG, with several startups backed by private venture capital already looking to commercialize lab-made eggs and sperm.
One of the recent advances in IVG is the transformation of skin cells from adult male mice into healthy eggs by Japanese researcher Katsuhiko Hayashi. Although only a tiny fraction of the mouse eggs produced were viable, the mice grown from these egg cells were healthy and able to reproduce. Hayashi envisions this approach could eventually be used to treat infertility in people with extra sex chromosomes or enable single-sex couples to have a child biologically related to both parents. He has also developed a method to make viable sperm from adult male mouse cells, and other researchers are working on maturing eggs made from adult females using IVG.
The potential applications of IVG in animals include conservation efforts for endangered species. However, the safety of IVG in humans and the ethical implications of creating embryos for the sake of others remain open questions. Some ethicists argue that IVG could lead to the commodification of procreation and the creation of children for the sake of fulfilling the desires of others.
There are concerns about the potential for 90-year-olds or long-dead people to have offspring through IVG and the potential for selecting embryos among dozens, hundreds, or thousands of options, compared to the limited number of embryos created in IVF.
The commercialization of IVG and the pursuit of a “perfect” generation raise ethical questions about who benefits from this technology and whether it is fundamentally experimental on children. Some experts argue that the field of fertility treatment, including IVG, has historically been an experiment with social, legal, and moral implications. There are concerns about the lack of standard clinical trial processes and the potential mixed message it sends to families that result from adoption.
Despite the progress in IVG, it is acknowledged that the technology for creating babies from cells other than eggs and sperm is still at least a decade away from reality. However, experts believe that now is the time for the public to consider the ethical implications of IVG as science progresses. The field of IVG raises complex ethical questions about reproduction, genetic manipulation, commercialization, and the value of human life, and further discussions and considerations are needed as the research advances.