Sperm have been made in the laboratory and used to father healthy baby mice in a pioneering move that could lead to infertility treatments.
The Chinese research took a stem cell, converted it into primitive sperm and fertilised an egg to produce healthy pups.
The study, in the Journal Cell Stem Cell, showed they were all healthy and grew up to have offspring of their own.
In vitro generation of functional gametes is a promising approach for treating infertility, although faithful replication of meiosis has proven to be a substantial obstacle to deriving haploid gamete cells in culture. Here we report complete in vitro meiosis from embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived primordial germ cells (PGCLCs). Co-culture of PGCLCs with neonatal testicular somatic cells and sequential exposure to morphogens and sex hormones reproduced key hallmarks of meiosis, including erasure of genetic imprinting, chromosomal synapsis and recombination, and correct nuclear DNA and chromosomal content in the resulting haploid cells. Intracytoplasmic injection of the resulting spermatid-like cells into oocytes produced viable and fertile offspring, showing that this robust stepwise approach can functionally recapitulate male gametogenesis in vitro. These findings provide a platform for investigating meiotic mechanisms and the potential generation of human haploid spermatids in vitro.