A few years ago, a young man from California’s technology scene began popping up in the world’s leading developmental biology labs. These labs were deciphering the secrets of embryos and had a particular interest in how eggs are formed. Some thought if they discovered that recipe, they would be able to copy it and transmute any cell into an egg.
Their visitor, Matt Krisiloff, said he wanted to help. Krisiloff didn’t know any biology, and he was only 26. But after leading a research program at Y Combinator, the famous startup incubator in San Francisco that was an early funder of such companies as Airbnb and Dropbox, he said, he was “well connected,” with access to wealthy tech investors.
Krisiloff also had a specific interest in the artificial-egg technology. He’s gay, and he knew that theoretically, a cell from a man could be turned into an egg. If that were ever possible, two men could have a child that was genetically related to both. “I was interested in the idea of ‘When can same-sex couples have children together?’” says Krisiloff. “I thought that this was the promising technology for doing this.”
Today the company Krisiloff started, called Conception, is the largest commercial venture pursuing what’s called in vitro gametogenesis, which refers to turning adult cells into gametes—sperm or egg cells. It employs around 16 scientists and has raised $20 million from well-known tech figures including Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and former president of Y Combinator; Jaan Tallinn, one of the founders of Skype; and Blake Borgeson, a cofounder of Recursion Pharmaceuticals.
The company is initially trying to make replacement eggs for women. That’s scientifically easier than making eggs from male cells, and it has an obvious market. People are having kids later in life, but a woman’s supply of healthy eggs nosedives in her 30s. It’s a major reason patients visit IVF clinics.
Conception is starting with blood cells from female donors and trying to transform these into the first “proof-of-concept human egg” made in the lab. The company hasn’t done it yet—nor has anyone else. There