As Cher once said, “I love men. I think men are the coolest. But you don’t need them to live.” With each passing year, science continues to prove her right. Even human reproduction (that one little issue we’ve been hung up on) is now entering a phase where men might be nearly obsolete — so long as we still have monkeys around.
Researchers have successfully figured out how to create fertile monkey sperm cells, no monkey jizz involved. According to scientists at the University of Georgia, they might be able to do the same for humans, too. In their recent study in Fertility and Fertility Science, they outlined how they used spermatogonial stem-cell research — i.e., making sperm cells from stem cells — to bypass the need for monkey semen. Using male embryonic stem cells from rhesus macaque monkeys, they were able to generate a type of immature sperm cell capable of fertilizing rhesus macaque eggs.
Exactly how they did this is very science-y and complicated, but in semi-layperson’s terms, they took an embryonic stem cell, labeled it with a green fluorescent protein and then put it through a process called “differentiation,” which transforms one cell type into another. In doing so, they were able to create immature sperm capable of fertilizing an egg under specific conditions. Later this fall, the researchers plan on actually impregnating a surrogate monkey with these lab-made sperm in hopes of producing a healthy monkey baby. If it works, they hope to recreate the experiment using rhesus macaque skin cells instead.
So, what does this all mean for humans?
Previous researchers have created mice sperm cells from mice stem cells, but rhesus macaque monkeys share far more similarities to humans (despite us using mice for all sorts of research on human fertility). If they can get monkeys to reproduce without monkey cum, they’ll be much closer to allowing humans to do the same.
All of this still requires male embryonic stem cells, though, so I sort of lied when I said monkey jizz will make men obsolete. Both sperm cells and stem cells can survive for decades if properly frozen, but sperm cells are only worth freezing if they’re actually functional. In some dystopian future where men no longer produce viable sperm, we could harvest up a ton of their stem cells and reproduce with those instead.
As extreme as that sounds, it’s essentially why the researchers conducted this study in the first place. Male fertility rates have decreased about one percent per year, potentially as the result of climate change, pesticides, plastics in our bloodstream, stress, diet and myriad other possibilities. And so, scientists really are on a quest to figure out how to develop sperm cells in the event our bodies no longer produce them on their own.
Basically, the research will most likely be useful in determining new ways to remedy male infertility and maybe, you know, save humanity. The idea that men will become obsolete thanks to monkeys is a bit more fun, though. Can’t we at least give Cher that?