Susan Barrett

I recently ran across an article by Fiona Macrae written on October 29, 2009 from Mail Online entitled “No men OR women needed: Scientists create sperm and eggs from stem cells”. I proceeded to read this article before I read the actual scientific manuscript that it was based on; the article itself makes several very big claims: 1) the research could change the face of parenthood, 2) the research could be the cure for infertility and 3) it may soon be possible for children to be born through entirely artificial means. For the last few years, there have been several outrageous media outlets that make a practice of taking an interesting scientific manuscript and sensationalizing it as a cure for infertility, etc.

Image: Alison Kim

Egg and Sperm Image: Alison Kim

I continued on and read the original scientific paper they were describing in the column, “Human DAZL, DAZ and BOULE genes modulate primordial germ-cell and haploid gamete formation;” an article published in this month's issue of Nature. It truly is a super paper describing the role the DAZL, DAZ, and BOULE genes play in the progression of embryonic stem cells to primordial germ cells (PGCs) and the subsequent development into a haploid gamete. Interestingly, this group isolated fluorescently-tagged PGCs that were developed from embryonic stem cells in culture (previously shown), but for the first time demonstrated that DAZL, DAZ, and BOULE are upregulated in order to induce these PGCs to begin meiosis and then arrest at early prophase of meiosis I.

What the scientific paper did not describe, or even hint at, was that this science would be a cure for infertility.  What this paper does, however, is attempt to clarify another step in the process of early germ cell formation that may be used as a tool for elucidating critical steps in male and female infertility. There is not one simple solution to infertility. I urge all scientists and non-scientists to be objective about outrageous claims that are made about cures and answers and to read the actual scientific papers and find the true messages behind the science.



The headline was certainly sensational - but that's to be expected considering the source. Beyond that I'd say the article was certainly optimistic, but in all fairness (as Ehren stated) the source paper can be percieved as encouraging at the least by those of us interested in the research, but lacking the scientific background.


I agree. I think one challenge facing non-scientists in this regard is language. As a non-scientist who has been exposed to a larger technical vocabulary than the average layperson, even I would have a difficult time reading this article and deciphering its meaning. We rely on journalists (and scientists) to interpret these articles and objectively tell us what they mean. Unfortunately, journalists don't always accomplish that, and oftentimes, laypeople don't have the technical expertise to dig for themselves and understand the column.