In our ever-present quest to become gods, scientists have created a "synthetic" mouse embryo for the first time, potentially opening the door to grow organisms without mothers or fathers.
From The Guardian:
Researchers have created the world's first "synthetic embryos" in a groundbreaking feat that bypassed the need for sperm, eggs and fertilisation.
Scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Israel found that stem cells from mice could be made to self-assemble into early embryo-like structures with an intestinal tract, the beginnings of a brain, and a beating heart.
Known as synthetic embryos because they are created without fertilised eggs, the living structures are expected, in the near term, to drive deeper understanding of how organs and tissues form during the development of natural embryos...
"Remarkably, we show that embryonic stem cells generate whole synthetic embryos, meaning this includes the placenta and yolk sac surrounding the embryo," said Prof Jacob Hanna, who led the effort. "We are truly excited about this work and its implications." The work is published in Cell.
They're creating fake animals in embryonic form to understand how actual embryonic development takes place.
But that's just where things start.
Hanna said synthetic embryos were not "real" embryos and did not have the potential to develop into live animals, or at least they hadn't when they had been transplanted into the wombs of female mice.
Yeah, so they actually tried to grow these things into mice??
[Hanna] has founded a company called Renewal Bio that aims to grow human synthetic embryos to provide tissues and cells for medical conditions.
"In Israel and many other countries, such as the US and the UK, it is legal and we have ethical approval to do this with human-induced pluripotent stem cells. This is providing an ethical and technical alternative to the use of embryos," Hanna said.
Using this technology could lead to discoveries that allow for the repair of major organs, spinal cords, and brain damage.
More importantly, if done ethically, it creates a potential solution to experimenting on human embryonic stem cells, which requires the creation of a human baby to harvest the cells (also known as murder).
However, it opens up a whole array of other questions.
While most of the stem cells failed to form embryo-like structures, about 0.5% combined into little balls that grew distinct tissues and organs. When compared with natural mouse embryos, the synthetic embryos were 95% the same in terms of their internal structure and the genetic profiles of the cells. As far as the scientists could tell, the organs that formed were functional.
So how much tissue is going to need to be collected and destroyed? And what are the theological implications of creating monstrous balls of flesh with human hearts and tiny brains? Unless this can be molded into solely growing organs, I think we are getting into some fiendish, horrid territory.
Also... the scientists claim they aren't trying to create full-grown "real" synthetic creatures, but that's also what the scientists claimed in the sci-fi film "The Island," where they said they were growing artificial organs for the rich and famous but were actually creating clones to harvest their organs if needed.
I'll think after the past few years, it's more than fair to be a bit skeptical about the ethical corruption that could occur here, especially when this is going to move from mice to human in no time.
Dr James Briscoe, a principal group leader at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who was not involved in the research, said it was important to discuss how best to regulate the work before human synthetic embryos were developed.
"Synthetic human embryos are not an immediate prospect. We know less about human embryos than mouse embryos and the inefficiency of the mouse synthetic embryos suggests that translating the findings to human requires further development," Briscoe said.
But, he added: "Now is a good time to consider the best legal and ethical framework to regulate research and use of human synthetic embryos and to update the current regulations."
There are lots of moral and ethical implications that should be considered here to say the least.
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