Chinese researchers produce mouse pups with same-sex parents

Adult bimaternal mouse

In the case of the female mice, three "imprinting regions" were deleted from the stem cells, which were then injected into the eggs of another mouse.

Chinese scientists have created healthy baby mice with two mothers and no father, pushing back the barriers to same-sex reproduction in humans. The mice were normal, lived to adulthood, and went on to have babies of their own.

A scientist holds a healthy adult mouse born from two mothers.

Some reptiles, amphibians, and fish, however, have the benefit of parthenogenesis: a natural form of asexual reproduction in which growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization.

Making mice from two fathers was more complicated, the researchers said, and involved modifying haploid ESCs containing only a male parent's DNA. Mice produced from two fathers only survived a couple of days after being born.

Zhou said the key to producing healthy, normal mice was using a type of stem cell that contained one copy of DNA, instead of immature eggs seen in similar studies in the past.

A team of researchers has produced viable offspring from same-sex pairs of mice, using a novel technology that involves stem cells altered to remove certain genes.

Co-senior author Qi Zhou, Ph.D. professor at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China says, "We were interested in the question of why mammals can only undergo sexual reproduction". For example, there is a need to identify problematic imprinted genes that are unique to each species and ongoing concerns for the offspring that don't survive or that experience severe abnormalities.

"We found in this study that haploid ESCs were more similar to primordial germ cells, the precursors of eggs and sperm", said Baoyang Hu, another researcher.

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The nucleus of the mouse egg was removed, meaning there was no female genetic material left and the fertilised egg was placed in a surrogate mouse.

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).

The study, published on Thursday in Cell Stem Cell journal, is the first time the method has been successfully implemented, though previous research has looked at other ways to produce babies from same-sex pairs.

However, the method presents ethical and practical hurdles if this technology were to ever be considered for humans, the researchers said.

Both included half the DNA needed to make a new pup, but it wasn't quite that simple.

Wei Li, Ph.D., a co-senior author on the study, notes that there are still obstacles to using these methods in other mammals.

The researchers aren't entirely sure why this happened, although they are planning to develop their procedures and try again in the future.

"We saw that the defects in bimaternal mice can be eliminated and that bipaternal reproduction barriers in mammals can also be crossed through imprinting modification". "However, the generated mice still showed defective features, and the method itself is very impractical and hard to use", said Zhou.

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