Episode 6

What is the future of reproduction?

Our reproductive capabilities are changing in exciting ways, altering our fundamental understanding of fertility, reproduction, and even parenthood. In this episode, we asked our guests what the consequences of novel reproductive technologies are likely to be, and how they will impact the future of human reproduction. Alice Reid told us about how reproduction has changed over the last 200 years and the likely demographic impact of assisted reproduction, while Lucy Van de Wiel introduced the important ways in which reproductive technologies must be considered in the context of wide social and political issues. Thorsten Boroviak shared his exciting and cutting-edge research on developing new reproductive technologies. We cover topics ranging from egg-freezing, so-called ‘three-parent-babies, and the importance of studying the embryonic development of primates.

This episode was produced by Nick Saffell, James Dolan and Naomi Clements-Brod. Annie Thwaite and Charlotte Zemmel provide crucial research and production support for Series 2.

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[0:00]- introductions

[2:10]- change of human reproduction over the last 200 years

[3:05]- the Demographic Transition

[4:00]- importance of changing ideas in family planning

[5:01]- introduction to egg freezing

[5:45]- egg freezing and changing meaning of what it means to be ‘fertile’

[6:24]- who is freezing their eggs?

[9:10]- ability to get pregnant versus quality of eggs

[9:59]- societal and demographic impacts of egg freezing

[10:19]- egg freezing and inequality: who gets to use this technology?

[11:24]- impact of gender equity in the workplace and the home

[12:05]- higher levels of gender equity can produce higher levels of fertility

[12:57]-beginning of first breakout

[20:17]- the importance of research in embryonic development of primates 

[21:09]- introduction to single-cell transcriptomics

[22:10]- impact of embryonic research on fertility treatments

[22:24]- Induced pluripotent cells and taking cells ‘back in time’

[23:19]- generating eggs and sperms from any human cell

[24:02]- can a man produce an egg?

[25:00]- “three-parent-babies”

[27:09]- the specialization of gametes 

[28:00]- impact of when novel technologies become clinically safe?

[29:19]- small demographic impact of assisted-reproduction at the present

[30:55]- how can we do this scientific work while being informed about the societies in which these technologies will play a role?

[31:30]- regulation of egg freezing and when society thinks the ebay age for having children is

[32:30]- importance of thinking about where the eggs for assisted reproduction technologies

[33:53]- the problem of false hope? 

[35:48]- the different ways people get information about their reproductive options

[38:31]- egg freezing at career fairs

[40:37]- when should one freeze their eggs?

[41:00]- second breakout

[48:31]- young womens’ complex decisions when it comes to choosing to have kids

[49:10]- changes in fertility are about decisions surrounding when to have children

[51:15]- the science behind choosing when to have children

[52:52]- the baby boom

[55:07]- big fluctuations of fertility over time

[57:00]- the impact of social precarity on decisions to have children

[59:00]- changing family structures and the role of reproductive technology e.g. same-sex couples

[61:53]- reprosoc and ‘queer reproduction’. 

[64:54]- reproductive justice and reproductive equity. Ensuring reproductive autonomy while ensuring non-exploitation

[65:59]- Final question: what is the most exciting thing that will happen to humankind in the future?

[70:37]-concluding summary


Guest Bios:

Thorsten Boroviak is a Bioengineer at the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. He is the Principle Investigator at the Laboratory for Primate Embryogenesis, at the Centre for Trophoblast Research. His research focuses on how embryonic cells organise themselves in the very early stages of pregnancy. His research is vital for innovative treatments for implantation failure, infertility and cancer as well as the clinical applications of stem cell biology. 

Alice Reid (@amrcampopis) a historical demographer at the Department of Geography, working with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Her research focuses on fertility, mortality and health in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She looks at the social, economic, and environmental influences of infant, early child and maternal mortality. More information about Alice’s work can be found on The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure’s website,  Populations Past

Lucy Van de Wiel @LucyvandeWiel is a sociologist and a Research Associate at the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc). Her research focuses on the social and cultural analysis of assisted reproductive technologies like egg freezing, time-lapse embryo selection and cross-border reproductive care. Her current research project is entitled Fertility: Oocyte Cryopreservation and the Gender Politics of Ageing. This study critically examines the controversial introduction of oocyte cryopreservation in the early 21st century and argues that the widespread concern with whether and why women should freeze their eggs is indicative of a contemporary rethinking and politicisation of what it means to age. She leads the Life in Glass project at ReproSoc, a major programme of outreach activities funded by the Wellcome Trust.

About the Podcast

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Mind Over Chatter
Welcome to Mind Over Chatter, the Cambridge University Podcast! One series at a time, we break down complex issues into simple questions.

About your hosts

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Naomi Clements-Brod

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James Dolan