New techniques for genetically manipulating sperm may allow
to circumvent existing laws prohibiting human germline engineering
reproductive cloning, and increase their technical capabilities.
UK newspapers reported in December that British fertility expert
Winston has obtained a patent on a technique that would allow
to genetically alter the human male germline cells that develop
sperm. Winston developed the technique in collaboration with
at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the California
Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and with funds granted
by the US
National Institutes of Health. According to Phillip Koeffler
Sinai, "This does provide the capability of making designer
it will be up to society to decide what to do with it."
A Sunday Times report quotes Dr. David King, editor of GenEthics
in London, predicting that the technique could create a social
conferring another advantage on the rich. "The commercial
mean ethical restraints are brushed aside," he said. (Lois
"Winston patents technique for 'designer sperm,'"
12/10/00; Mary Vallis, "Gene-fixing technique can erase
National Post, 12/11/00, <http://www.nationalpost.com/home/
A few weeks later, scientists in Japan announced they had grown
from stem cells derived from cloned mouse embryos, and then
the sperm back into the testes, where they appear normal. The
said that the technique, which they plan to test on humans,
infertile men to produce genetically related offspring. They
that they will also be able to produce eggs from "reprogrammed"
derived from cloned male embryos, which would allow children
produced with genes of two men, rather than of a man and a woman.
(Cherry Norton and Lois Rogers, "Clone scientists can grow
laboratory," Sunday Times, 12/21/00, <http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/
With this technique, researchers could genetically manipulate
stem cells, and then screen the sperm into which they develop
before using them to fertilize an egg. Even more than Winston's
which involves injecting the sperm precursor cells into testes
final stages of maturation, it could encourage those scientists
eager to push ahead with human germline engineering.