Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Reproductive technology

50% Naomi Campbell, 50% Thylane Blondeaux, 100% technically possible.

Not so much time ago, I read an article on a recent development in the science of human reproduction.

As most readers with an interest in science will know, since some years it is possible to obtain totipotent cells from adult cells, usually from the skin,  by "reprogramming" them.

(It involves starving the cell and then giving them a push into de-differentiating, using some molecular triggers... I suppose the details are much more refined, but as a basic description  it feels enough, for me.)

Some researchers tried to place these cells inside rat gonads, and obtained sperm cells when they inserted them into male gonads, and egg cells when they inserted said cells into rat ovaries.

(And metastatic cancers when they went around in other places...)

This, independently from the fact that the donor was either a man. or a woman.

Of course, the sperm cells out of a woman can carry only X chromosomes (unless she is a XY kariotype with resistance to testosterone), so it is bound to give birth only to other females.

This alone brings the possibility of some interesting "kinky" application, like directly cross-breeding Naomi Campbell and, say,  Thylane Blondeaux (it doesn't take much more than a sample of skin, it appears, which does not require the subject to be even near sexual maturation and, given the quantity of cellular samples the average person leaves in hospitals during a normal life, not even the support or approval of the target... )

Or to allow every lesbian-gay couple on the planet to have kids that are, genetically, as theirs as those of any heterosexual mating.

In the near future, five  years or so, the researchers hope to be able to identify the molecular triggers that transform a totipotent cell into a reproductive one,so that they can do all in laboratory, without the unknown variables associated to using a living animal as an incubator.

Now, since some years ago, there are, also,  transgenic pigs developed to be compatible with humans, for transplant purposes. 

Their use in transplants is not going to happen any time soon, and probably it is never to come, no matter the money already invested in creating these animals.

There is a possibility that some of the viruses that are endemic in pigs may cross over to humans, if given the chance provided by a human host with a reduced strength immune system (like is the case for every transplant recipient that has to take anti-rejection medication) to learn and adapt to the human immune systems.

However, one may entertain the idea of using these animals as living incubators for foetuses created  with the aforementioned techniques.

So, even waiting for some other researcher to come out with an artificial uterus - that's a major achievement that will require quite a bit of time, I fear - we are still left with a reproductive  technology that could reduce the value of women wombs to nothing, if it was convenient to society.

On one side, that could be a step forward. 

One of the inherent pitfalls of feminism has been that women's wombs were the bottleneck of human reproduction - this meant that most societies in history had to give these organs even more value than that of the individuals that carried them. 

Had to, in an economical sense.

Medical improvements intervened since the last century meant that the production of every womb need not to be so high as in the past, and the fact that automation is eating away job after job reduced even more the requirement numbers for new generations.

 (No matter the preoccupation for the demographic implosion, one of the analysis of the current European crisis is that we still make more kids than the amount of new workforce the continent really needs, in the middle to top tiers of pay grade that we want for our children when they grow up... nobody wants to see his kid scrub cesspools, even if that is a much more socially useful job than - say - telemarketing, or lawyering).

The rise of feminism is, so, also tied to the loss of economic value of the female womb, which has liberated the individual "around" it.

Society is a crowd of crowds, as ruthless and as pitiless as any of them, when its core interests are at stake.  

If ten kids per woman were still needed, feminism would be a denigrated mania like it was at the dawn of the XX century, entertained by a small number of very courageous women.

In the distant future, though, society may come to need exactly 0 kids per woman, to stay afloat. 

Women will then become as inherently useless to society as men are, whom "exists" only when they  do something useful ( := make money ) .

Of course, I may be dead, by then.

But I may be not.

p.s. for the moment, the research is, really, still in the preliminary stages. The first results point, however, into the direction that it is indeed possible to derive germ cells of any kind from skin cells.

Experts expects it to be possible sometime in the next six-five years... maybe.

Maybe it is just a preliminary stab to get the politics in gear for when they'll manage to do all this, so that panic reactions may be avoided. 

Absurd laws written with two left hands are not unheard of, when it comes to human reproduction techniques.
For a view of the current state of the art, you can read http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25609401.

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