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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Fertility experts say the technique is a major leap forward"
 real 56k

The BBC's Sangeeta Mhaiskar
"Replicating this process to create human babies is clearly some way off"
 real 56k

Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan
"I can't see men becoming redundant just yet"
 real 28k

Professor Robert Winston
"This is genuinely revolutionary"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Eggs fertilised without sperm
It may be possible to have a baby without involving men
Scientists in Australia have found a way to fertilise eggs using genetic material from any cell in the body - and not just sperm.

The technique could potentially help infertile couples to have children.

Theoretically, we can use somatic cells from a female to produce the same embryo

Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan
Theoretically, it also could mean that lesbian couples could give birth to a baby girl without the need for a father. Women do not carry the genetic information required to make a boy.

The technique has been developed by Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan, from Monash University in Melbourne.

She told the BBC that her team had been able to successfully fertilise mice eggs in lab cultures using other cells in the body known as somatic cells.

Until now, this has not been possible because somatic cells contain two sets of chromosomes, while sperm cells only contain one set.

The Monash team used chemical techniques to get rid of the spare set of chromosomes.


To do this, they mimicked the process that takes place during normal fertilisation when two sets of chromosomes in an egg are separated and one is ejected, leaving the remaining set to combine with the single set from the sperm.

However, they will not know if the embryos were viable until they were transferred to foster mothers for further development.

Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan
Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan developed the technique to help infertile men
"We will then have to wait to see if any live and healthy babies are born following those transfers.

"Within the next six to eight months I believe we will have the answer, and see whether this technology can go further and be used maybe in clinical aspects."

Dr Lacham-Kaplan said she had started her work to help men who were unable to have children because they had no sperm, or germ cells with the potential to become sperm.

But she added: "Theoretically, we can use somatic cells from a female to produce the same embryo.

"So two women who wish to have their own biological children would be able maybe to use this technology to achieve that aim."

However, this could prove problematical as aspects of development are controlled by a paternal gene.


Fertility expert Professor Robert Winston told the BBC: "This is actually genuinely revolutionary and potentially very important.

"The real advantage of this technique is for men who cannot produce sperm. Hitherto, it has always been said they could clone themselves.

"The beauty of this technique is that it makes cloning completely unnecessary. This actually is a much better technique and ethically much more acceptable because you have chromosomes from two partners."

Professor Winston said it was theoretically possible for a person to reproduce themselves using the technique. However, the use of chromosomes from the same person massively increased the risk that a baby would suffer from genetic defects.

The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) was outraged by the technique.

A spokesman said: "The proliferation of novel ways to produce embryos is increasingly reducing the human being to a commodity in many people's eyes.

"We believe the interests of the child come before the wishes of anyone else, including the parents. We shall be calling for a moratorium on this kind of development."

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See also:

10 Jul 01 | Health
Fertility: a regulatory minefield
05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
Concern over baby sex 'guarantee'
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