We all began in more or less the same place. Crushed in the head of the epididymis, packed in with millions of potential brothers and sisters; a dense cell full of DNA, propelled by a spermatozoon – a singular tail.
You and your half-formed siblings are forcefully expelled from the epididymis, make the winding journey through the vasa deferentia, until – mixed then with seminal fluids – you lie in wait in the ejaculatory duct.
Now all that’s missing is sexual arousal. Enter your mother, with the other half of your eventual DNA.
When your father, excited to the point of irresistible force, ejaculates! You shoot through the urethra and upon reaching your mothers reproductive tract, become mobile. Your spermatozoon starts to whip from side-to-side, propelling you forward in the race of your life.
Pitted against 250,000,000 other sperm, your goal is to reach the holy grail – the egg. Battling through gravity, the acidic conditions of the vagina, your mother’s immune system and all other manner of fatal obstacles – only a dozen or so sperm reach the egg. And ultimately, only one sperm can fertilise it.
So, I think it’s fair to say – even the least remarkable of us embarked on ‘life’ having beaten some fairly impressive odds.But recently, UK researchers have been given the go-ahead to begin genetically modifying embryo’s. And the reaction has been… mixed.
A stem cell scientist, called Kathy Niakin, is permitted to study excess embryos from IVF treatment, for 14 days – from their development as a single-cell fertilised egg to around 250 cells.
The embryos will not be implanted into women, and the study is intended to look into the reasons some mothers lose their babies before full term and gather information to develop infertility treatments.If research on embryos develops, there’s the potential that it could lead to all sorts of different technologies.
On the one hand it could show us whether genome editing could (in the future) be used to address genetic problems before birth – and the 4% of children born with genetic defects could be spared difficulties in later life.
Critics, however, see this as a step towards the development of ‘designer babies’, whereby parents could choose the eye colour, hair colour or sex of their baby. They also raise the concern that there could be unforeseen hereditary issues caused by tampering with the DNA of embryos – should they ever be implanted.If you’re reading this, the chances are you won the race to the egg quite a long time ago, and the genetic modification of embryos will have no direct effect on you as a person.
The miracle of life is difficult, complex and not something that should be tampered with lightly. But, since the technology used to do this gene editing was developed in 2012, they’ve had significant progress in the search for cures to vision loss, muscular dystrophy and even super-bugs.
While it is an ethical minefield to navigate – if you could choose to prevent genetic diseases from being passed on, would you? Then again, considering how much it takes for one sperm to fertilise an egg in the first place, do we really want to mess with that?
The sexual reproductive system is an incredible feat of natural engineering, but even it can go wrong. If you’re having erectile difficulties, book an appointment at The WellMan Clinic to speak to a medical professional today.