Medical

Stem cell breakthrough may allow same gender couples to create babies

Stem cell breakthrough may all...
Researchers have developed a technique that could allow a baby to be created from the combination of two adults, no matter their gender (Photo: Shutterstock)
Researchers have developed a technique that could allow a baby to be created from the combination of two adults, no matter their gender (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Researchers have developed a technique that could allow a baby to be created from the combination of two adults, no matter their gender (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Researchers have developed a technique that could allow a baby to be created from the combination of two adults, no matter their gender (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers from Cambridge University and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science are claiming a stem cell research breakthrough that would allow a baby to be created from the skin cells from two adults, no matter their gender. This potentially allows for infertile couples to have their own children without resorting to sperm or egg donors, and may provide the means for same sex couples to produce their own babies.

Previously only successful in experiments on mice, the new research has been conducted on human cells for the first time. In this study, the researchers paired stem cell lines from embryos with the skin of a range of different adults, with the resultant cells compared to aborted fetuses to determine an identical match.

Techniques devised to create same-sex offspring are not new. Some experiments involve the manipulation of fibroblasts in mice resulting in offspring with the genetic traits of multiple male mice, whilst others have used bone marrow stem cells extracted from males to trigger spermatogonia.

However, in this latest research, stem cells and adult human skin have been combined for the first time to create an entire new germ-cell line (that is, cells that will become embryos). Derived from ten different donor sources, the new germ-cell lines were created from 10 different donor sources – five embryos and five adults.

Intrinsic to this pairing was the SOX17 gene. A master gene, SOX17 usually works to direct stem cells to be “programmed” to become whatever organs or body parts are required – in other research this techniques has been used to create lung, gut, and pancreas cells.

The manipulation of the gene to be part of a primordial germ cell specification (that is, direct it to create cells that will become an entire human), however, is a new development pioneered by the team and has allowed them to follow this discovery with actually making primordial germ cells in the lab. This stage in a baby’s development is known as "specification", and once primordial germ cells become specified, they continue to develop inexorably toward precursor sperm or ova cells.

Creating human egg and sperm cells from the skin of two adults of the same gender immediately raises the possibility of same sex couples procreating and offering an alternate pregnancy path for infertile couples. Of course, it also opens the door to a new minefield of ethical and moral implications, but the researchers note that many people may potentially benefit from the technique.

The results of the research were published in the online journal Cell.

7 comments
Nairda
Sweet. One step closer to creating inter-species animals. I'll have my pig-snake yet. And judging by the way things are sliding, in a few years I'll be able to marry it. At least this overcomes some of the problems humans have with infertility caused by a lifestyle of abusing the body and trying to have kids too late in your life. Because 50 is the new 20 apparently. But always, science moves forward. So always a win. :)
Lee Bell
Now this should become real interesting once the networks get hold of it.
JSWilson
If two men had a baby using this technique could the baby end up with two Y Chromosomes? If so, would it be viable?
Nelson Hyde Chick
The Earth is already so they can add to that burden. dying from too many people and now we are looking for ways for those that could not conceive before so they can add to the burden. The greatest factor in determining the quality of life for future generations will be how many children are not born.
GizEngineer
"It's not nice to fool mother nature."
Dr Giz
@JSW, Good question. Since each male is XY, you can produce an XX female baby using the X from both males. You produce an XY male baby using an X from one male, and the Y from the other male. But two females could only produce female babies, since neither one has a Y chromosome. All egg cells have an X chromosome, while sperm cells carry either an X or a Y. To produce a YY baby, the egg cell would have to contain a Y chromosome. I don't think this is possible, even with this technique.
SarahRenee
Exactly right, Dr. Giz. Since cloning and even now with science's ability to create primordial sperm and egg from skin cells regardless of the donor's gender, the press has gone wild with screaming headlines predicting the demise of men who, they claimed, were soon to be irrelevant to the process of reproduction. However, two women can only produce a girl since females do not carry the genetic material necessary to create a boy. Two men, however, could produce both girls AND boys if this current technique is developed to the point where it might safely be used in humans. So, the claim that men are superfluous and expendable was an ignorant lie all along. One might suggest that in terms of creating sustainable future populations, its women who could potentially be superfluous and expendable. Especially once the gestational pod is perfected.