FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Science Changing the "Facts of Life"

When children of future generations ask their parents where babies come from, the version of "the talk" they hear may be very different from the one we experienced.

Though sexual reproduction lies at the core of life science, technology is progressing in a way that could change the way we think about reproductive issues:

  • In 2004, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania grew mouse "spermatagonial stem cells," or stem cells that can become sperm cells. Other scientists are working to create human sperm and egg cells from stem cells... effectively removing sex from the reproductive process.

  • A St. Louis surgeon has successfully performed an ovarian transplant on a woman from ovarian tissue donated by the woman's twin sister. The woman, whose cancer treatment as a teen left her sterile, then became pregnant and delivered a healthy baby. The ability to remove and replace ovaries offers women a number of reproductive benefits. Women undergoing cancer treatment could have their ovaries removed for the duration of their therapy, then have them restored. It could also serve as a form of "extreme birth control," in which a woman could have her ovaries removed, preserved, and then restored when she is ready to start a family.

  • Scientists have been able to perform in vitro fertilization on mice using microscopic channels on a silicon surface -- literally a "baby on a chip."

While these advances offer new options for treating infertility, they also raise important ethical questions. "Designer" sperm and eggs, for instance, can be altered genetically, with those changes retained by future generations. On the upside, scientists could make such changes to prevent genetic birth defects and diseases. But it also raises the possibility of eugenics, allowing manipulation of both appearance and emotions.

Sources: Wired, KurzweilAI.net