Did you know babies can be produced through the harvest of skin cells? This might sound a bit like science fiction, but a new form of reproduction technology called in vitro gametogenesis, or IVG, is propelling this idea into reality. Through the process of IVG, cells can be converted into artificial gametes which are then able to form fully-functioning and implantable embryos. IVG trials with human subjects have not yet begun, but successful studies with mice have occurred. Ultimately, in vitro gametogenesis procedures someday resulting in human beings will immensely alter how we view our networks of life.
Through in vitro gametogenesis, couples unable to reproduce by traditional means would receive renewed fertility. As stated in a 2014 article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, “Same-sex couples . . . would be able to have children as closely genetically related to them as those produced by couples through sexual reproduction.” Additionally, children could be engineered with only one biological parent, though this would increase the risk of genetic disorders. Babies could also be born with more than two biological parents. Skin cells from fresh hair follicles of the deceased could even be used by spouses to create children their significant other will never meet. Unsurprisingly, the idea of such abounding opportunities results equally in acceptance and controversy.
Many ethical and legal inquiries continue to be raised about IVG. For example, a 2017 article published in the journal Science Translational Medicine questioned what would happen if someone were to steal another person’s skin cells to make illegitimate children using that person’s genes. Additionally, usage of IVG coupled with gene editing and modification capabilities might allow parents unlimited opportunities to create so-called “designer babies.” IVG would also contribute to the development of a population featuring less genetic variety, as the process increases the possibility of identical gene production or homozygosity.
According to a 2015 article published in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, an additional unintended effect of in vitro gametogenesis could be augmented social inequality. Those able to afford IVG technology would be able to literally “design” their offspring for success by selecting embryos likely to develop superior physical or mental traits. This ability could result in a new-age cycle similar to that of poverty. IVG might even lead to a new connotation of the term “survival of the fittest.”
So, where does this information leave us? Ultimately, we must make up own minds and form our own opinions regarding this matter. However, it is apparent IVG’s impact on our world will be lasting. IVG could forge new family structures and alter the relationships individuals have with their offspring. In these terms, how we view reproduction and origins of life, in addition to the hereditary and ancestral systems in which we exist, could be forever changed. The production of new generations of mankind through in vitro gametogenesis will inevitably transform the ways in which we perceive networks of life.
Cohen, I. G., Daley, G. Q., & Adashi, E. Y. (2017). Disruptive Reproductive Technologies. Science Translational Medicine, 9(372), 1-3. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aag2959
Palacios-González, C., Harris, J., & Testa, G. (2014). Multiplex Parenting: IVG and the Generations to Come. Journal of Medical Ethics, 40(11), 752-758. doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101810
Suter, S. (2015). In Vitro Gametogenesis: Just Another Way to Have a Baby?. Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 3(1), 87-119. doi:10.1093/jlb/lsv057