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What Is Artificial Sperm?

Sperm contain half the number of chromosomes necessary to create an embryo when joined with an ovum.
Artificial sperm has been genetically engineered using other types of cells.
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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 February 2015
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Sperm are male reproductive cells containing 23 chromosomes — exactly half the number necessary to create an embryo when joined with a female reproductive cell or ovum. This process is the very beginning of fetal development and the start of human life. Scientists throughout history have researched ways to cure infertility and start this process. Artificial sperm are genetically engineered sperm cells created from other types of cells.

The first synthetic sperm cells were created in 2009 by researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. Researchers took stem cells, so called “blank cells,” from new embryos. Using a mixture of chemicals and vitamins, researchers were able to modify the stem cells to replicate sperm structure. These artificial sperm were physically identical to biological sperm both in terms of structure and movement.

One out of every six couples suffers from infertility, and there is a 50 percent chance that either partner in an infertile couple is physically incapable of reproducing. Artificial sperm were created as a possible solution to male infertility. It is possible for men who were previously thought infertile to father children via the creation of these artificial cells.

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Creating sperm in a laboratory setting carries potential ethical and legal ramifications. It is still unclear whether or not these artificial reproductive cells are potent enough to fertilize female egg cells. Stem cells must be harvested from live embryos, a process that is illegal in some countries and controversial around the world. The argument over whether life begins at birth, conception or at some point in between weighs heavily on the creation of artificial sperm and is fraught with religious, political and personal opinions. Because the technology is still new, few ethical guidelines exist to prevent abuse or mistreatment of viable artificial sperm.

Human testing of artificial sperm technology has not occurred, but scientists at Kyoto University in Japan have tested the technology on laboratory mice. When artificial mouse sperm were united with mouse ova and implanted into female mice, the babies were carried to term. As the mice born from the synthetic sperm grew up, they remained healthy and were capable of producing offspring.

The technology behind artificial sperm, the methodology of use, and the biology of growth are still developing. While the technology is currently unavailable to help infertile couples achieve parenthood, scientists are optimistic for the future. The process used to create synthetic sperm could allow researchers to pinpoint the causes and possible solutions of male infertility.

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Feryll
Post 4

I'm all for science and technology, but I wonder whether using artificial sperm will change the characteristics of the children born in this way. Will they be the same as children who were conceived with natural sperm?

This seems like something out of a science fiction movie to me. Before long we'll be able to go to a lab and pick out exactly what we want our children to look like, and what personality traits we want them to have. I'm not saying this is bad, but I find the whole concept a little scary.

Animandel
Post 3

@Drentel - I totally disagree with you. Adoption is a great option for many people, but this way of starting and adding to a family is not for everyone.

I work in the medical profession and I cannot tell you how many potential parents I have seen who desperately want to reproduce. Some couples will exhaust every means possible to have a child and still not be able to conceive.

If you could see how disappointed, heart broken and depressed the inability to have children can make people then maybe you would see the importance of research that might one day allow infertile couples to make use of artificial sperm and other procedures to help them have babies.

Drentel
Post 2

I find it ironic at best that embryo stem cells would be used to help create sperm cells so that people can have babies. Basically what this process does is it uses a discarded and undervalued life (or potential life depending on your view) to create another life.

Why not just let the first embryo live? Why are we so obsessed with reproducing our own genes? If you can't conceive babies, there are plenty of children in the world who need loving parents. Let's not destroy one embryo to produce another one.

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