MEDICINE: parthenogenesis path to stem cells

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sat Nov 24 2001 - 14:06:15 MST

This NY Times article:

points out work at MIT and ACT that seems to suggest
that methods exist to convince eggs (at least primate
eggs) to develop via parthenogenesis into cells that
can be used for stem cell research.

It suggests its relatively easy to start off the division
process for female eggs. Its a bit more difficult for
sperm (you have to transfer at least 1, perhaps 2 sperm
nuclei into the egg). Interestingly enough the success
rates are pretty high, 40% of the eggs reach the blastocyst

Interestingly enough the stem cells resulting from this
approach will be "self-compatible" (if developed from
ones own eggs or sperm). One possible down side however
will be the fact that defective genes whose effects are
normally masked by a dominant non-defective allele could
become unmasked. One way to work around this would be
to create tissue "mosaics" derived from multiple stem
cell lines where different cells had different defective
alleles causing ill-effects. Natural selection of the
best cells as the tissue develops should eliminate the
worst problems.

This approach is *really* going to annoy various groups
however because the approach generates stem cells via
non-fertilization based routes which from at least some
perspectives doesn't look like you are dealing with
a "real" human being. Its going to push such groups
more into the camp of having to say literally "any"
cell with at least 23 chromosomes of human DNA can
develop into a human so killing any cell so described
is equivalent to killing a human being. On the slippery
slope for sure!


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