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Scientists create a new type of stem cell with only half a human’s usual 46 chromosomes

This undated image provided by the U.S. National Cancer Institute shows the 46 human chromosomes, where DNA resides and does its work. (National Cancer Institute/AP)

Schoolchildren learn in Biology 101 that most human cells have two sets of 23 chromosomes — one from the mother and another from the father. The only exceptions are reproductive cells from sperm and eggs, which each have one set.

That arrangement is the basis for how human inheritance works, but it poses serious limitations for medical research. Because there are two copies of each gene it makes it challenging for scientists to find defective and edit mutations that may be leading to disease. In an effort to solve this problem, a team of scientists from Israel and the United States have created a new type of cell that doesn't exist in nature — human stem cells with only half of our naturally occurring chromosomes.

In a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, they report that these are the first human cells that are capable of cell division with just one copy of a genome of a parent.

Scientists have previously created so-called haploid embryonic stem cells for mice.

This breakthrough has huge implications for progress in everything from gene editing to reproductive and regenerative medicine. The researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Columbia University Medical Center and the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute explained the implications of their work in this nifty video:

Scientists say they've created a new type of human stem cell that they believe will help pave the away for new therapies for a range of conditions. (Video: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Researchers Nissim Benvenisty, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and principal co-author of the study, and Ido Sagi, a PhD student, said in a statement that their work also provides a novel way to study human development and may help solve mysteries like why we reproduce sexually, while some other creatures  can create offspring by themselves.

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