The end (of men) is coming!

Relax, people, human sperm created in a lab doesn't mean guys are becoming obsolete

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published July 9, 2009 10:17AM (EDT)

When I got word of British scientists' claim of having created human sperm from embryonic stem cells, caricatures came to mind of conspiracy theorists who rant about women's drive to render men irrelevant to reproduction. The comedic farce of my imagination didn't remotely compare with the unintended one-liners the press actually delivered, though. Take the following headlines the research spawned: "A world without need for men," "Sperm from stem cells put men on notice" and "British scientists grow ARTIFICIAL sperm in a lab (so who needs a man?)" and "Chaps doomed as lab grows sperm."

Finally, we womyn can seclude ourselves in high-security lesbian communes where we impregnate each other with turkey basters full of in vitro-derived sperm! And we feminists can embark on our campaign to castrate all men without putting an end to our species. After all, if this portends "the end of men," I guess that means that the world's women only put up with the male species because we need their spunk. Forget the tortured romances of chick flicks, we won't have to pull out our hair waiting for petri dish sperm to call us back. I guess we're just not that into you, dudes.

Sarcasm aside, it's more than just a warped view of humanity that makes the "end of men" conclusion absurd -- the science does, too. A number of researchers have questioned the authenticity of these sperm and say they're dramatically different from "natural" human sperm. Even the researchers behind this finding say that "for normal structure development, sperm needs the testes environment." (Guys, guess that means you should thank your lucky -- ehem.) Even if these sperm were ready to be implanted in humans, and they most certainly are not, Britain outlaws it. What's more, the researchers were only able to create sperm from male embryos. "That suggests that genes located on the Y chromosome, which female cells do not contain, may be essential for triggering the maturation of the primitive sperm cell," explains Time magazine. So, for now at least, we still need men around to create in vitro-derived sperm  and maintain genetic diversity.

Here's the real kicker to all this madness, though: The researchers say their work is driven by a desire to better understand and treat ... male infertility. The goal isn't to render men obsolete but to expand their reproductive abilities.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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