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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    One Small Step for Mice, One Giant Fall for Mankind

    Stuart: Momma, why do I have beady red eyes and a long pinktail?

    Mom: Well son, there are just some things your fathercan’t do.

    Stuart: Like what momma? I thought daddy was likesuperman?

    Mom: Your daddy is far from super, you little runt. In fact,he wears kryptonite underwear and he’s as sterile as aDonkey. Your real father is Ralphy the Mouse. Happy now?!

    Stuart: Dad?

    Such a circumstance may seem inconceivable, but not so myfriends, not so. According to researchers from University ofPennsylvania, it may be possible to grow human sperm using mice. In2002, the same researchers successfully produced goat and pig spermfrom mice. This was the first time in history that sperm had beenproduced outside the original animal. Mice have also been used toproduce monkey sperm using tissue transplanted from the testes ofan immature rhesus macaques monkey.

    How do they do it? Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.

    Step 1: Castrate the mice.

    Step 2: Graft fragments of testicular tissue from a newbornhuman.

    Step 3: Transplant fragments into the backs of mice that havedeficient immune systems, so that the foreign tissue is less likelyto be rejected.

    Scientists found that the inserted testicular tissue causes amouse brain to secrete higher levels of hormones that control spermproduction. These secretions cause the tissue itself to growrapidly as well. The testis grafts take approximately seven monthsto produce viable sperm. The research team found that more than 60percent of the grafts of from goats, monkeys and pigs producedmature, fully functional sperm.

    As unorthodox and bizarre as it may seem, this new discovery hasgreat potential of creating incredible changes in the world. ThePennsylvania group is now trying to adapt the procedure to producesperm of endangered big cats that rarely survive to reproductiveage in captivity.

    The U.S. scientists involved say their work might one day helpto conserve animals that are facing extinction. ‘The mainbenefits we see are that this approach provides a system to studyand manipulate primate spermatogenesis, thereby minimizing the needfor experimentation in primates,’ Dobrinski said.

    Sounds sweet and dandy for animals going to extinction, but isthere any practical use for us humans? Yes. The ability to producevirtually unlimited amounts of sperm using this technique couldconceivably be used to help human couples struggling with malefertility problems, allowing them to conceive children carryingtheir own genes. Prepubescent boys undergoing treatment for cancerthat will render them sterile could also benefit, Dobrinskisuggests. This can be done by removing immature testis tissue priorto treatment and transplanting it onto mice for sperm production.Theoretically, this would not only allow the prepubescent boy theexperience of fatherhood, it would also mean the boy could be afather at any age! Now that’s Weird Science!

    But let’s analyze the flipside. What else does this meanfor human beings? Theoretically, in a crazy matrix-like artificialuniverse, all men could be rendered fruitless, literally. If evilfeminist scientists decide to steal the testis of a healthy,intelligent little boy and graft them to a mouse, producingvirtually limitless amounts of sperm, us men would be out of a job.Sometimes, I regret being the weird scientist.

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