Scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Weizmann Institute in Chicago have managed to create primordial germ cells which are precursors to egg and sperm using human embryonic cells. This is the first such instance of developing germ cells under laboratory conditions. The research was funded by was funded Wellcome Trust and BIRAX (the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership). The experiment had earlier been created from rodent stem cells successfully.
The results of this experiment can help researchers find “answers to fertility problems, yield insight into the earliest stages of embryonic development and enable the development of new kinds of reproductive technology in the near future.”
After an egg cell gets fertilized by a sperm, it begins to divide into a cluster of cells called the blastocyst which is the earliest stage of development of the embryo. This blastocyst contains “cells that form the inner mass and will become the fetus, as well as some that form the outer wall and will become the placenta,” explained the researchers.
“Cells contained within the inner cell mass are ‘reset’ into stem cells. This allows them to form into any type of cell in the human body. Some of those cells develop into primordial germ cells (PGCs), and they have the potential to become egg or sperm cells (also known as germ cells) later on in life, allowing them to pass on the offspring’s genetic information to its own children.”
“The creation of primordial germ cells is one of the earliest events during early mammalian development,” said first author Dr. Naoko Irie of the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge.
“It’s a stage we’ve managed to recreate using stem cells from mice and rats, but until now few researches have done this systematically using human stem cells,” Dr. Irie added. “It has highlighted important differences between embryo development in humans and rodents that may mean findings in mice and rats may not be directly extrapolated to humans.”
The findings of this pathbreaking study first appeared in the journal Cell. Azim Surai, the lead researcher, and his co workers have suggested that primordial germ cells can be developed from adult skin cells as well.