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Baby planning: Creating babies without fathers

Fathers aren't needed say MPs: Commons decides IVF babies can do without a male role model. Read more...

More food for thought!

Women may soon be able to have babies without men, fertility experts said yesterday.

Scientists have used a cocktail of chemicals to trick a mouse egg into forming an embryo without sperm. They say similar 'artificial sperm' could be used to fertilise human eggs.

In sexual reproduction, a woman's eggs provide only half the number of chromosomes needed to form an embryo. The other half is provided by the man's sperm.
The new method makes an egg duplicate its own chromosomes - resulting in a female embryo genetically identical to its mother.

Known as parthenogenesis - literally, virgin birth - experts believe the process could be used to help women whose partners are infertile or who want to have a baby without a sperm donor.

Scientists at the US Society of Reproductive Medicine in Florida created several mouse embryos which were transferred to mouse 'foster' mothers. They grew successfully before being destroyed after 13 days.
Dr. Michael Soules, the society's president, said: 'If this works with human eggs, there could be tremendous opportunities for clinical applications. I think everyone is going to find this very exciting.'

But the breakthrough is controversial as it is similar to human cloning, which is currently banned in Britain.

Medical ethics campaigners last night described the research as 'very disturbing'. Paul Tully, of the Society fo rthe Protection of Unborn Children, said : 'This could mean that, theoretically, it would be possible to eradicate men.'

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which grants licences for reproductive research, said: ' If this was a sort of cloning there would be serious misgivings.'

How does the process work?
What are the drawbacks?
What is the legal situation?

Source: Metro, Tuesday, October 23, 2001

How does the process work?

A human egg cell and a sperm cell each have half the chromosomes of normal cells. When they fuse, they form a zygote which eventually grows into an embryo. In parthenogenesis, an unfertilised egg cell is removed from the womb and bathed in a series of chemicals to stimulate it into doubling its chromosomes and becoming a zygote by itself. The resulting embryo can be transferred to the womb to grow. As the only genes involved come from the egg, the embryo is identical to its mother.

What are the drawbacks?

Opponents say that children deserve the chance to be genetically unique and to have a biological father. Additionally, all babies made up by this method would be female. Cloning by other means is known to be unsafe and causes severe abnormalities, with cloned embryos standing a high chance of being rejected during pregnancy.

What is the legal situation?

While parthenogenesis is not illegal, it is unlikely it would be licensed in Britain as it is effectively a form of cloning, which is banned.

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