Scientists Breed Healthy Mice With Same-Sex Parents

A healthy adult mouse born to two mothers shown with her own offspring. Credit Leyun Wang

A healthy adult mouse born to two mothers shown with her own offspring. Credit Leyun Wang

In experiments created to explore what makes it so hard for some animals to reproduce with same sex parents, the researchers said mice from two fathers were also born, but survived for only a couple of days.

Haploid embryonic stem cells with gene deletions have led to a new first in a laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences: mouse pups created from the DNA exclusively of same-sex parents-of two mothers, or two fathers. Several of the bimaternal mice even grew up to birth their own healthy pups (this time through a more natural means of conception).

"The tremendous amount of genetic modification needed in order to do what they (Chinese researchers) did, makes it implausible to use it in anything other than research in the way that they've done", he said.

"While human haploid embryonic stem cells, cells in which only half of the chromosome are present, have been generated, it is unthinkable to generate a human baby that way".

This early approach led to the production of bimaternal mice (mice born of two mothers) in a previous study.

The researchers then used gene deleting techniques and injected them into eggs from another female mouse.

Commentators said the study may pave the way for single-sex humans to reproduce in the future, although not any time soon. They were able to produce 29 live mice that developed into adults.

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The research reveals some crucial obstacles that normally prevent sexual reproduction between parent animals of the same sex, while indicating that some of them, at least, may be bypassed using stem cells and targeted gene editing.

In China, scientists had mice offspring from two females without the participation of the male.

Key to the success of the latest study, the researchers believe, is the use of haploid embryonic stem cells (ESCs), whose DNA contains less imprinting programming that must be deleted.

"Most people accept that genetically engineering humans is morally unconscionable, and doing the same thing to mice using stem-cell technology is just as reprehensible - it will not solve reproductive problems but will lead to misery for intelligent, sensitive beings".

It took a sperm, a male haploid embryonic stem cell, an egg that had all of its own genetic information removed and the deletion of seven genes to make it all work.

In mammals, because certain maternal or paternal genes are shut off through genomic imprinting, offspring that don't receive genetic material from both a mother and a father are likely to be nonviable or have developmental abnormalities. (Empty or not, an eggy enclosure is still necessary to bring sperm and sperm together.) These odd hybrid embryos-literal egg shells containing double doses of paternal DNA-were then transferred into a surrogate mouse mother. Similar results were achieved in 2011 but using a method that relied on a female intermediary produced from the first father's stem cells to mate with the second father. They do hope, however, to explore these techniques in other research animals in the future.

They have overcome the mammalian reproduction barrier with mice.

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