Category Archives: artificial reproduction

The prospect of artificial sperm and eggs

Robin Baker describes in his book Sex in the Future, a new method of contraception. This system consists of three components: sterilization, storage of sperm and eggs, in vitro fertilization. According to Baker this system has the following benefits. First sterilization is quite effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. But by storing human gametes outside the body and ivf, sterilized people can have children when they desire. Continue reading The prospect of artificial sperm and eggs

Alternative for Abortion

This post describes a personal opinion of the author, and is therefore not necessarily representative of Republic of Lagrangia or the space movement in general.

Although I am a proponent of humanistic secular liberalism, I happen also to be pro-life, i.e.  I oppose abortion, which I consider as a violation of the right to life, a fundamental right in classical liberal theory. Since I do not believe that this right can be denied on developmental state, I reject the slaughter of animals and consequently I choose to be a vegetarian. The idea you can be both vegetarian and pro-abortion, is in my opinion hypocritical.

However, unlike (some) many christian pro-lifers, I do support abortion in a very few situations: in case pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, the (mental) health of the mother is at stake or in case of serious defects of the foetus. A further difference between me and many “conservative” members of the pro-life movement, is that fully support both adequate sex education and the use of contraceptives. It has been proven that proper sex education (as opposed to “abstinence only”) reduce both teenage pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

Abstinence maybe an effective tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it is unrealistically to believe that abstinence only will solve this problem. Whatever you might want, people are going to have sex before and outside marriage, and it is in contradiction to liberalism to impose legal prohibitions against non marital sex.

The first step to eliminate the evil of abortion is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Contraceptives are essential for this, one thing the government may do is to distribute free or cheap (female) condoms in public spaces. Of course condom are not the miracle solution, although they may do a great job. People may forget to buy or use a condom from time to time, and condoms may break during use.

An interesting new way of contraception is discussed in Robin Baker‘s book Sex in the Future. Baker proposes a system in which people get sterilized at young age (16 or 18 for instance) and that their gametes would be stored ex vivo. When a couple wants to start a family they would retrieve their gametes from the storage and became pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Of course this program should be entirely voluntary, although it would be quite effective.

Another topic discussed in Sex in the Future, are artificial uteri. I discussed this in a previous post, although very shallowly. There many prospective uses for artificial uteri, we can think about career women who want to have children, but do not want to be pregnant because of their job, women with defective uteri or no uteri at all, male same-sex couples who want to start a family etcetera.

In these particular examples the pregnancy will start with in vitro fertilization, although scientists who are experimenting with artificial uteri (on animals, of course) usually transfer embryos from their natural environment to the artificial one. As far as I know, no scientists has ever succeed to establish a full ex vivo pregnancy. The possibility of transferring a foetus from a natural to an artificial uterus has a few prospective uses.

One example would be in case of pregnant woman who has died before her child was sufficiently developed to survive outside the body. Another example would be in case a woman who wants an abortion, but doesn’t fulfil to the requisites I mentioned above. If artificial uteri were available, a woman would be able to choose to terminate her pregnancy without killing her child.

In case the woman does not want to have a family, artificial uteri would enable the father to raise his child, provided he is both known and willing to have a child. Otherwise the child would become a warden of the state from the moment he or she is transferred into an artificial uterus.

Some pro-lifers suggest that adoption should be an alternative for abortion. I agree with them only partially. Their plans still force women to carry on their pregnancies to term, since giving up a child for adoption can only happen after birth. Artificial uteri will free women from this kind of compulsion.

Breakthrough artificial egg cells

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on November 24, 2012

The following article on BBC News describes a new technology to create egg cells, and although this technology currently only works for mice, I think this is an important development. In this post I will discuss why discoveries like this one are important for space colonization programs. In an earlier post I discussed some applications for artificial reproduction in space colonization.

My main point in that post was the need of a large gene pole. A low degree of genetic diversity will lead to inbreeding, which is usually associated with increased risk of genetic disorders. Unless we will apply strict genetic screening of immigrants, space populations will likely only exist for some generations. Even with genetic screening, we have the problem that most people are carriers of a few defect genes. The only way to solve the problem of a small gene pool, is to increase diversity. This can be done in two-way: massive immigration or import of human gametes.

Large scale immigration has multiple side issues: from a technical point of view we have to deal with the bottleneck to space, current rocket based space launch systems have limited capacity to send people to space. (We believe that all proposals for non-rocket space launch, are unlikely to developed soon, see also this post.) All best case scenarios predict that only a few hundred people can emigrate to space each year.

Another issue related to mass immigration is social-cultural and political. Space communities will most likely have very restrictive admission policies, and will select only those potential immigrants on whether they have certain desired qualifications and whether they do share the political ideology of a particular space colony. For example a more socialist oriented space colony is not likely to be willing to accept immigrants who are opposed to socialism.

The second solution for increasing genetic diversity is by importing human gametes. Human sperm can easily be collected on Earth, space governments could offer reasonable cash amounts to men in return of their sperm. Once collected, sperm is easily stored and transported, one launch could easily carry the sperm of several thousand males. The collection of human egg cells is much more difficult, eggs or ovary tissue can only be collected through surgery. It is clear that buying human eggs is much more expensive than human sperm, we have now also to pay for the surgery.

However this problem would be solved if we would be able to make egg cells from skin tissue, which can be collected in almost every reasonable hospital in the world. The procedure of collecting skin tissue is much less intrusive for women. Tissue cultures are just like sperm samples easy to store and transport into outer space.

Sperm donation and artificial egg cells will make it possible for Space communities to develop gene banks with high genetic diversity without the difficulties arising from (mass) immigration.

More:

Artificial sperm is also possible http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14404183

Noah’s Ark 2.0

This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012

In our post on meat production in outer space we briefly addressed the problem of transporting herds of animals from Earth to Space colonies. Transporting small animals like dogs and cats, will not a big deal. But larger animals like cattle or horses are much more difficult. The primary problem is with mass, launching a certain mass of payload from the surface of the Earth, cost much more mass of fuel, see Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation. This equation tells us that it will be almost impossible to launch an elephant from Earth to Space colony. Recall that from an orbit around our blue planet to the Lagrange points of the Earth-Sun system, will only take a little amount of energy and propellant mass.

If we want to bring animals to Space colonies, we should take as little as possible. In theory we should take only a couple, one male and one female, and then breed from them as many as necessary. But there is one big problem with this approach: inbreeding. In order to reduce the negative effects of inbreeding we should increase the number of transported animals, and so increasing transportation costs. There is a simple solution for these dilemma: nowadays sperm and eggs (female gametes) can easily be stored. And by this method a relatively small space craft can transport a large collection of genetic information of several species and multiple individuals of each species. When this cargo of sperm and eggs arrives at the Space colony, scientists can create new embryos by using in vitro fertilization.

You may argue that even if we create embryos we will still need some female of each specie. This is true to a certain degree, yes we need a womb, but this doesn’t need to be one of the same species. Currently scientists are researching interspecific pregnancy, this made it possible to implant, say a horse embryo, into a cow. A potential problem with this technology is as follows: a certain female animal may carry only a young with a smaller than a certain size, for example: a domestic cat cannot give birth to a bovine calf. But even this problem is possibly to solve. We can imagine that some small animal A gives birth to little bigger (at adulthood) animal B, which on her turn can give birth to an ever bigger (at adulthood) animal, etcetera. Of course this procedure will take some time, but it is possibly our only option.

A technologically more advanced solution will be the use of artificial wombs. In theory these can be made of any size, and will allow us even to breed elephants in Outer Space. However, currently is this technology not fully developed, so at this moment interspecific pregnancy is our best option. But if reproductive technology advances artificial wombs will provide us an ideal solution.