The Download: synthetic sex cells, and brain stimulation

The way we make babies could be about to change. Maybe. 

An embryo forms when sperm meets egg. But what if we could start with other cells—if a blood sample or skin biopsy could be transformed into “artificial” sperm and eggs? What if those were all you needed to make a baby?

That’s the promise of a radical approach to reproduction. Scientists have already created artificial eggs and sperm from mouse cells and used them to create mouse pups. Artificial human sex cells are next, promising a whole host of radical alternative routes to parenthood, including spelling an end to infertility, and allowing same-sex couples to have genetically related children. 

The problem is actually getting there and—maybe even harder—untangling the knot of ethical issues that will come up along the way. Read the full story.

—Jess Hamzelou

Read next: How artist Ani Liu’s work is exposing the messy, technologized, and undervalued nature of reproductive labor in the 21st century. Read the full story.

Brain stimulation can improve the memory of older people

The news: Many of us will struggle to remember things as we get older. A gentle form of brain stimulation might help, according to new research. Growing evidence suggests that applying electrical stimulation to brain networks can change the way they work, potentially strengthening connections between brain regions.

How it works: A team of researchers used a form of brain stimulation called transcranial alternating current stimulation. tACS, as it’s known, allows gentle pulses of electricity to the skull via electrodes embedded in what is essentially a swimming cap. The group focused on two regions of the brain that are known to be involved in memory, and delivered electrical pulses of activity to match each region’s characteristic activity patterns.

What they found: The approach appears to boost the memories of older people and help them remember lists of words. Throughout the experiment, people who received brain stimulation improved in their ability to remember words. There was no such improvement among those who weren’t stimulated. Read the full story.

Source: MIT Technology Review

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