Science

Breakthrough raises possibility of genetic children for same-sex couples

Same-sex couples may soon be able to have their own genetic children (Image: See-ming Lee via Flickr)
Same-sex couples may soon be able to have their own genetic children (Image: See-ming Lee via Flickr)
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Same-sex couples may soon be able to have their own genetic children (Image: See-ming Lee via Flickr)
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Same-sex couples may soon be able to have their own genetic children (Image: See-ming Lee via Flickr)

In what could be the first step towards same-sex couples having their own genetic children, reproductive scientists have produced male and female mice from two fathers using stem cell technology. The achievement of two-father offspring in a species of mammal could also be a step toward preserving endangered species, improving livestock breeds, and advancing human assisted reproductive technology (ART).

A team of reproductive scientists in Texas, led by Dr. Richard R. Berhringer at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, manipulated fibroblasts - a type of cell that are the most common cells of connective tissue in animals - from a male (XY) mouse fetus to produce an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell line. About one percent of iPS cell colonies grown from this XY cell line spontaneously lost the Y chromosome, resulting in XO cells.

These XO iPS cells were injected into blastocysts from donor female mice before being transplanted into surrogate mothers, which gave birth to female XO/XX chimeras having one X chromosome from the original male mouse fibroblast.

The female chimeras, carrying oocytes - which are immature ovum or egg cells - derived from the XO cells, were mated with normal male mice. Some of the offspring were male and female mice that had genetic contributions from two fathers.

The technique, which is described in a study posted on Wednesday at the online site of the journal Biology of Reproduction, could be applied to livestock breeding to combine desirable genetic traits from two males without having to outcross to females with diverse traits.

The scientists also point out that this "new form of mammalian reproduction" could also be valuable for preserving species when no females remain as it would be possible for one male to produce both oocytes and sperm for self-fertilization to generate male and female progeny.

They add that, in the future, it may also be possible to generate human oocytes from male iPS cell in vitro. Used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization, this would eliminate the need for female XO/XX chimeras, although a surrogate mother would still be needed to carry the two-father pregnancy to term.

Additionally, using a variation of the iPS technique, the researchers say, "it may be possible to generate sperm from a female donor and produce viable male and female progeny with two mothers."

However, the authors caution that the generation of human iPS cells still requires significant refinements prior to their use for therapeutic purposes, so there's still some time to explore the moral and ethical questions such technology will no doubt raise.

16 comments
Rocky Stefano
Moral and ethical questions? Why would anyone have questions? WHy would tampering with nature and the natural selection process be wrong?
DFGoodwin
This is WRONG on so many levels. Sure, Bob and Bill have their own biological kid. Where is he/she going to live, grow up, go to school? You don\'t think the majority of people would talk? You think teasing and bullying is bad for kids now? Go ahead, try to live a normal life. HA!
Paul Anthony
First of all I would like to share that I was laughing heartily when I saw the use of Bert and Ernie as the pic in my email. ROFL :) But seriously, if there is no female how will the baby be brought to term? Or did I skim this article too fast and miss it?
Eletruk
I think we have enough humans on the planet, and a perfectly capable system of procreation. We don\'t really need to find ways to create even more people on this increasingly crowded planet.
Jamie Nichols
\"It goes against nature/god/whatever.\" Same argument used against in vitro fertilization, fertility treatments, and - long ago - blood transfusions.
Adam Nightingale
Why is religion always involved in these discussions. Such outdated and antiquated fairytale. This is science here people non-fiction. Moral and Ethical questions yes but this is really no different to designer babies and IVF. It\'s just the two processes are being combined and further advanced to produce a designer baby for a same sex couple. I\'m not saying I agree how ever. I do have to question the practice though, surely nature intended us to take chromosomes from a male and female for good reason. With regards to school yard talk and growing up etc, these children wouldn\'t be branded on the forehead.
alcalde
@Rocky: \"Moral and ethical questions? Why would anyone have questions? WHy would tampering with nature and the natural selection process be wrong?\" Is taking your kids to the doctor or wearing eyeglasses tampering with the natural selection process? What about breeding animals? Is taking medicine or receiving a transplant tampering with nature? Seriously... we\'re self-aware creatures and no longer subject to natural selection for the most part. It\'s 26F outside right now and 66F in my room. We adapt our environment to suit US now. In the future we will also use our knowledge to choose the biological (or cyborg) destiny of our species, not leave it to natural selection. @ DFGoodwin: \"\"This is WRONG on so many levels.\" \"Sure, Bob and Bill have their own biological kid. Where is he/she going to live, grow up, go to school?\" Um, anywhere Bob and Bill want to raise their kid? \" You don\'t think the majority of people would talk? You think teasing and bullying is bad for kids now? Go ahead, try to live a normal life. HA!\" So Bob and Bill should give in to homophobia and live childlessly (your example would apply to their adopting a child as well). Sorry, gay couples can and do raise children, often adopting the handicapped or ill children that no one else wants because they know better than most what it is like to be \"teased and bullied\". They and their families are a lot stronger than you give them credit for. @Eletruck \"I think we have enough humans on the planet, and a perfectly capable system of procreation. We don\'t really need to find ways to create even more people on this increasingly crowded planet.\" So why aren\'t you denying children to the 95% of heterosexuals in the world (\"perfectly capable system of procreation\") but only objecting to the small minority this would be a blessing for? Now if you were saying we have more than enough kids waiting to be adopted, you\'d have a point, and it would apply to those capable of natural procreation as well and really address the population issue.
windykites
DFGoodwin: bullying, eh? My 2 dads can beat up your dad!
Kirill Belousov
retarded. Just have a real sex and have kids for f**k sake.
Michael Mantion
All I am saying is this is wrong. blah, blah, blah... I don\'t care... Its wrong, so very, very wrong. Oh and scary.