April 29, 2008
Method To Mature Eggs Outside Of Ovary

Evelyn Telfer of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues have developed a method to mature eggs outside of the ovary. This method avoids the need to expose a woman's body to powerful ovary-stimulating hormones.

Telfer said the new technique had several advantages over standard practices. It took just 10 days for an egg to mature using the new method, while it might take several months for an egg to mature inside the ovary, and one piece of tissue can provide many dozen eggs, rather than the 10 or so harvested during IVF. In addition, the technique would avoid the need for a woman to take hormone injections, which are needed in standard IVF to stimulate her ovaries to over-produce eggs.

The ability to grow large numbers of eggs creates the possibility of a much bigger benefit: The ability to do embryo selection over a much larger set of embryos. When DNA testing becomes cheap and revealing the ability to select among dozens of embryos for implantation will spark a huge acceleration in the rate of evolution of humanity (or of various post-humanities that will emerge). In 30 years (assuming the robots don't take over) the average baby getting born among the middle and upper classes of the more developed countries will be smarter, healthier, and better looking due to widely practiced embryo selection guided by DNA testing results.

The ability to freeze ovarian tissue and grown later in the lab will allow women to postpone motherhood.

The scientists from Edinburgh University have shown that immature eggs can be frozen, grown and matured in the lab.

The process could lead to women having pieces of ovary containing the immature eggs removed and stored. Much later on, they could be thawed, fertilised and finally implanted into the womb.

Telfer thinks this method is still 5 to 10 years away from being usable in humans.

I can see this method increasing the supply of donor eggs. More women will be willing to sell their eggs when they can do it without undergoing treatment with risky ovary stimulation drugs. The ability to freeze the ovarian tissue will allow buyers to choose among a larger set of women who had their ovarian tissue frozen over many years.

The use of this method might be short-lived as techniques to turn adult skin tissue into eggs will eventually eliminate the need to start with ovarian tissue in the first place.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 April 29 10:35 PM  Biotech Reproduction

Brian Stone said at April 30, 2008 8:54 AM:

Interesting and important work.

But growing ova from skin or any other somatic cells is likely to be much harder. The mitochondria in ova are special: unlike any others, they are metabolically inactive for almost all of their lives, so that the vulnerable mitochondrial DNA accumulates mutations much more slowly than other mtDNA, which is exposed to the hostile oxidative environment of a functioning mitochondrion and is much less well protected than nuclear DNA. Most of the mitochondrial mutations in ova which do occur are selected out during gestation. Of course the potentially damaged paternal mitochondria have no role in the offspring.

Synthesising clean mtDNA de novo and inserting it into somatic mitchondria after removing the original mtDNA might be a solution, but it looks difficult.

A reasonably detailed introduction to this issue can be had in the mitchondrial talks in the SENS conferences, at http://www.mfoundation.org/ .

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