How do you like your eggs?

It’s certainly not a good idea to place all the eggs in one basket and that is exactly why women are born with theirs in two baskets, bags or more accurately ovaries! Unlike men who generate millions of sperms on a daily basis, women have a fixed set of eggs.

Human egg development. Image credits: Ttrue12.
Human egg development. Image credits: Ttrue12.

Each egg in the ovaries is surrounded by a jelly-like protective layer which upon the right hormonal signals disintegrates and releases the egg from the ovaries in to the uterus also known as the womb.

The premature and the mature forms of an egg are called follicle and oocyte respectively and the transformation occurs through an orchestrated change in the hormonal levels.

The four main hormones involved in this process are Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Progesterone and the very well known Oestrogen.  The fluctuations in hormones manifest in different ways in women.

Some have no change, while some have mild mood swings and headaches and in extreme cases, women go through agonizing pain and suffer before and during the release of egg.

During this period as the woman’s body prepares to release her egg, her uterus gets lined with a thick layer of blood and blood vessels in order to provide nutrients for the egg and for it to attach should it be fertilized by a sperm. This process in which the wall sheds due to an unfertilized egg is called menstruation which occurs roughly once every 30 days.

For all the guys reading this, good if you know these details already. But if you don’t, then read on and don’t be turned off by such information. This is happening in all the fertile adult females around you and is as important as climate change because whether or not you affect it, it affects you!

Human Menstrual Cycle. Image credits: Chris 73.

So what is new about this biological process, you might ask. Well, it is about the eggs. A women’s fertility is said to cease when her eggs are depleted and this puts a pressure on them to conceive a child if they wish to and most do. For those who were not lucky to bear a child and have no eggs left, a new option other than adoption awaits.

Create a new egg! 

Human Embryonic stem cell colony on mouse embryonic fibroblast feeder layer.  Image credits: Id711.
Human Embryonic stem cell colony on mouse embryonic fibroblast feeder layer. Image credits: Id711.

In 2004 , Dr. Jonathan Tilly of Massachusetts General Hospital led a research group that detected that mice produced oocytes during their lifetime instead of being born with a set of them. Further studies  to understand this mechanism confirmed that egg-producing stem cells were found in mouse ovaries though in limited numbers.

Following this, researchers wanted to see if that was possible in human females. If so there are so much possibilities though strongly skewed by the huge ethical impacts that they might have. A protein called Ddx4 is a marker that exists in eggs. Studies show that Ddx4 was found in another small set of cells in the ovaries and had properties of early immature ooctytes. Fluorescent-tags were attached to these stem cells and they were placed in a human ovarian tissue in vitro.

Voila, oocytes were generated. See the video of the birth of the egg here. From birth through eggs, there is now birth of eggs!

However ever since this research was conducted, many such followed and till date a growing number of proponents and opponents of this oocytes generation have been battling against each other.

The whole concept of eugenics, playing God and all the associated ethical issues have risen and scientists are therefore downplaying this for the time being. That being said, every single scientific discovery or innovation could be put to negative uses. Therefore it is every individual’s responsibility to ensure that this is not put to deleterious use if it gets legalized.

4 Responses to “How do you like your eggs?”

  1. aoly says:

    I agree with you Marcus. I just hope that strict regulation on information use and sharing is imposed to prevent misuse. At the same time that enough explanation is given to the public so that they do not develop a bad impression on the Scientists who are off to serve them for the better.

  2. aoly says:

    The use of stem cells to create other cells and tissues of the body are mainstream and with equal difficulties, Scientists have found ways to make them useful to the society. For instance, creating cardiomyocytes in the case of the heart issues. However, the problem arises when ethics are in question. If legalized, the ability to obtain a modeled egg could lead to a modeled human being and that is what most people are concerned about.

  3. gcao says:

    great post! i was always told that women are born with a fixed number of eggs. this is pretty interesting find to show that they actually regenerate those eggs. Thanks for the post

  4. marcusjg says:

    Wow Anu, I am amazed that this is actually possible. You’re points around the ethics are interesting and I agree that it is important that we don’t shy away from research just because the concepts could have negative applications. I feel that this is ground breaking work that needs to be explored and that it could change the lives of many by relieving the stress of having to have kids while you can.