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Scientists have created baby mice with two fathers for the first time by converting male mouse stem cells into female cells in the laboratory.
This opens up the remote possibility of doing the same for humans – although experts caution that very few mouse embryos are born alive and no one knows whether the same technique would work in human stem cells.
Still, “It’s a very clever strategy that’s been developed to turn male stem cells into female ones,” said Diana Laird, an expert on stem cells and reproduction at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the research. “It’s an important step in stem cell and reproductive biology.”
The scientists described their work in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
First, they took skin cells from the tails of male mice and transformed them into “induced pluripotent stem cells,” which can develop into many different types of cells or tissues. Then, through a process that involved growing them and treating them with a drug, they turned male mouse stem cells into female cells and produced functional eggs. Finally, they fertilized those eggs and implanted the embryos into female mice. About 1 percent of the embryos – 7 out of 630 – grew into live baby mice.
The pups appeared to grow normally and were able to become parents themselves in a normal way, study leader Katsuhiko Hayashi of Kyushu University and Osaka University in Japan told fellow scientists at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing last week.
In a commentary published with the Nature study, Laird and her colleague, Jonathan Bayerl, said the work “opens up new avenues in reproductive biology and fertility research” for animals and humans. Down the road, for example, it might be possible to reproduce endangered mammals from a single male.
“It could even provide a template for enabling more people,” such as male same-sex couples, “to have biological children, bypassing the ethical and legal issues of egg donors,” they wrote.
But they pointed out a few caveats. The most significant? The technique is extremely ineffective. They said it was unclear why only a small proportion of embryos placed in surrogate mice survived; the reasons can be technical or biological. They also stressed that it is still too early to know if the protocol would even work in human stem cells.
Laird also said scientists need to be aware of mutations and errors that can be introduced into a culture dish before using stem cells to produce eggs.
The research is the latest to test new ways of creating mouse embryos in the laboratory. Last summer, scientists in California and Israel created “synthetic” mouse embryos from stem cells without the father’s sperm or the mother’s egg or uterus. Those embryos mirrored natural mouse embryos up to 8 ½ days after fertilization, containing the same structures, including one like a beating heart. Scientists said the feat could eventually lay the groundwork for creating synthetic human embryos for research in the future.
Story by Laura Ungar.
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For 1st time, scientists create mice with cells from 2 males
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