Chinese scientists create mice with two mothers and no father
It is too early to set scope on same-sex human reproduction
Chinese scientists have succeeded in creating a mice with genetic material from two mothers. The young developed so well that they were able to continue to naturally propagate themselves. The researchers also used the stem cells of two fathers to create mice, but that boy died quickly. However, the probability that the technique can also be applied to humans is very small, experts say.
It is not the first time that the mouse boy comes from two female mothers, but the birth of the boy with only male parents is a first. Moreover, the technology has been further refined since the first attempt in 2004.
Scientists from the Chinese Academy introduced genetically engineered stem cells from a female mouse into an unmodified egg from another female mouse. That led to 210 embryos, eventually resulting in 29 mice. Those mice were normal and reached an adult age when they could reproduce.
The creation of embryos with two fathers was more difficult. For this purpose, genetically manipulated stem cells from a male parent were inserted together with semen from another father in an egg cell from which the fore – the female genetic material – was removed. These cells were inserted into a surrogate mother. These mouse pups all died within 48 hours of birth. The reason for this is still unclear.
“This research shows us what is possible,” says Wei Li, who led the study. The team hopes to test the techniques in the future in other animal species.
Parthenogenesis – procreation without the need for sperm – is nothing new in the animal kingdom. Many insects can already produce clones of themselves, just like a number of fish, lizards and amphibians. This is more difficult for mammals, say the Chinese scientists. Embryos from mammals that do not have genetic material from both a mother and a father may show abnormalities or may even be viable.
What about humans?
In their study, which was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the scientists state that some reproductive obstacles can be overcome by two parents of the same sex thanks to stem cell techniques and genetic manipulation. According to experts, however, this technique is far from sophisticated enough to be applied to people for the creation of babies for homosexual couples.
“The risk of severe abnormalities is too high and it will take years of research into different animal models to fully understand how this can be done safely,” said Dusko Ilic, stem cell specialist at King’s College in London.
Azim Surani, specialist in genetics at the British University of Cambridge, was impressed by the study. But “the extensive genetic manipulation” needed to create the mice means that it is unlikely that human babies from two parents of the same sex can be created, he says.