Viewpoint: On the use of stem cells to ensure the survival of endangered species

Professor John Hunt, Director of the UK Centre for Tissue Engineering at the University of Liverpool, said: “Making gametes from stem cells falls into line with the current knowledge base for what we know we can turn (induce) stem cells into.

“The approach of using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) to advantage endangered animal species provides a very tight and controlled application to develop and test the theory, develop IPS research and extend our knowledge of how to use this approach safely and reliably in mammals and beyond the cell culture laboratory. In time this research should provide valuable cross species data concerning different mammals.

“Most researchers started to work with stem cells to deliver a benefit to the health and well being of mankind. This is another really good example of the applications of stem cells – particularly IPS cells. The research community continues to distil and consolidate their activity towards non human or in vitro applications in the short to medium term to understand further how to safely and reliably use the stem cells’ fantastic potential to become other cells and regenerate a body.

“The ethical and social acceptance of this approach to help an endangered species will be interesting to hear. As this is not cloning but can still be used to define offspring, there will be elements of control and definition in the genotype and gender of any offspring. The licensing and regulation of the use of the gametes produced following production will also be interesting to watch develop. In vitro fertilisation may be an acceptable use of these cells in the short term but artificial insemination or delivery of a fertilised egg may not be; this may require a whole new set of licensing and regulations as these will be a genetically modified species which may find its way back into the ‘wild’ populations.

“A crucial scientific question that will help distinguish this from cloning and ensure this approach maintains the variety of life itself, is whether this approach and the gametes produced will still have the “freedom” for chiasma to occur? Chiamsa is the chromosome crossover that occurs that is essential for evolution and the fantastic variety of life itself.”

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