In China same-sex couple animal produced offspring

Katie Ramirez
October 15, 2018

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.

According to a study published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) used stem cells and gene editing to produce over two dozen healthy mice from female parents.

Researchers from China have bred healthy mice with two mums (and no dad) that went on to have normal pups of their own. This is because mammal offspring that do not receive genetic material from the mother and the father in the process of genetic imprinting may develop abnormalities or may not even be viable at all.

Despite having success with mice, Li said the same technique can not easily be applied to other mammals - such as humans - since each species has a unique set of problematic imprinted genes, and identifying these takes time.

"We revealed some of the most important [DNA] regions that hinder the development of mice with same sex parents", said Wei Li, a molecular biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who co-led the new study, in a statement. The authors write that "cultured parthenogenetic and androgenetic haploid embryonic stem cells (haESCs) display DNA hypomethylation resembling that of primordial germ cells".

Typically, a mammalian embryo needs two genomes, each containing a manuscript of genetic instructions from the mother or father. By deleting these imprinted genes from immature eggs, researchers have produced bimaternal mice-mice with two mothers-in the past. Amazingly, they were able to give birth to 29 live, normal mice that lived to adulthood and even had their own broods.

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This study adds to the understanding of what makes it so challenging for animals of the same sex to produce offspring and suggests that some of these barriers can be overcome using stem cells and targeted gene editing.

They used a special kind of stem cell called a "haploid" embryonic stem cell, which means that they contain 23 rather than the usual 46 DNA-carrying chromosomes (just like male sperm). After deleting three imprinting regions from the haploid ESCs of one mother, the CAS researchers injected them into eggs from the other mother.

Across much of nature it is possible to create animals using only genetic material from females but in mammals a sperm must usually meet an egg.

The more problematic was the two-fathers procedure, which was more involved. The team plans to improve the process so bipaternal mice live to adulthood.

Professor Lee believes that this study shows us that, "it is possible that same-sex couples in the future will be able to have children". "The defects in bimaternal mice [shown in previous research] can be eliminated and bipaternal reproduction barriers in mammals can also be crossed".

"To consider exploring similar technology for human application in the near future is implausible", Dusko Ilic, a stem cell specialist at King's College London, told Reuters.

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