FIRST it was test-tube babies, now its test-tube sperm.
Researchers in Singapore are the first to grow mature sperm in the laboratory, in landmark work that could one day be used to treat infertility in men.
The breakthrough may also shed light on the basic processes of human reproduction, which are very hard to study within the body.
It may also be used in agriculture to allow males with desired traits to have their sperm produced in bulk for insemination, or to introduce new traits via the sperm to future generations of offspring.
Although the sperm-growing feat is now restricted to fish, the Singapore team that achieved it is working to succeed with mammals too.
Associate Professor Hong Yunhan, who led the work by a National University of Singapore team, said: Because of the similarities between fish and mammals, the findings point to the ability to replicate the work in mammals, and obtain sperm under these conditions to treat male infertility.
Their work funded with close to S$3mil (RM6.6mil) in grants from the Lee Hiok Kwee Foundation, Biomedical Research Council and NUS has been published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the United States National Academy of Sciences.
The next step will be to try to duplicate the work on mammals such as mice, said Prof Hong.
Putting aside ethical considerations, the technical complexities of the process alone mean that this feat is not possible in humans yet.
I am a man, and I dont want to imply that men are useless, joked Prof Hong. The Straits Times/Asia News Network