September 8, 2005

Having two mothers at the genetic level.

It has to happen sooner or later, right?

MORE: Here:
On June 20, at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Copenhagen, scientists announced a development in stem cell research that could allow gay couples to have children that share both of their genetic make-up, instead of just one partner sharing a genetic link.

Researchers discovered that they could develop primordial germ cells (PGC) from embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are the master cells of the body, appearing when embryos are just a few days old and developing into every type of cell and tissue in the body, including sperm and eggs.
PCGs are present during the fetal stage and then develop into either sperm or eggs. By gaining the ability to engineer changes in the PCGs, scientists could develop an egg from the PCGs of a man wishing to pair his genetic material with his partner’s sperm. Similarly, a woman’s PCG could be developed into sperm cells that could be used to fertilize her partner’s eggs. In either case, a unique embryo could then naturally form with the genetics of both same-sex partners.

31 comments:

The Conservative UAW Guy said...

That is beyond disturbing.

downtownlad said...

Disturbing for the religious right perhaps. For gay people, this is a wonderful advance.

It will be interesting to see how the religious right tries to deal with this. Supposing two lesbians have a child through this manner, will the state only recognize one parent as being the legal guardian, treating the other genetic parent as a complete stranger?

Will the religious right try and prevent the genetic parents of a child from getting married? Of course they will.

It will not be long before they can do the same with two male sperm. By planting the genetic material from sperm into a donated egg.

Paul said...

As a simple man, other than a whole new field for litigation, what am I missing here?
Is preventing birth defects in almost any manner not desirable? It would seem to give a woman afraid to have a child because of this, a chance to have a child. Or should she always run the risker course?
We still need men here too, right? I mean, we do, don't we, they're not obsolete yet? That's the day I worry about.

Meade said...

Sure, Paul, just like fish need sperm banks. I mean, bicycles. I mean, bicycles that can get the fish to sperm banks. Oh you know what I mean.

Richard Fagin said...

Oh, my! Technology makes Andrea Dworkin's dream come true! With men no longer needed, in how many years does Justice O'Connor think it will be safe to overturn the Meritor Savings Bank case?

Charles said...

The question is: Why? Just because you can do something doesn't automatically compel you to do it. What incredible possibly use is this that will be great for the masses, and not just the overly rich lesbians?

mcg said...

Important: this is NOT what some of you are thinking it is. The child will NOT have the chromosomes of two mothers; the article clearly states that the nuclear genetic material is coming from a tradititional egg/sperm fertilization.

What is going on here is that this material is being harvested from its original fertilized egg and being placed into another woman's egg.

It turns out that there is other genetic material in an egg besides just the chromosomes. This DNA is found in the mitochonria. Apparently, faults in that DNA can cause certain diseases. I did not know this untli I read this article, that's very interesting!

But the overall impact of mitochondrial DNA is really rather small. And of course when someone does genetic testing to prove paternity they always use the nuclear DNA, because mitochondrial DNA is only passed down from the mother.

So this kind of transplantation is not going to make a child adopt trainlike both of its mothers or anything like that. It does, however, make for a rather interesting case, because it is true that in some small but genuine way a third parent's DNA is having an impact on the child's development.

mcg said...

"trainlike" = "traits" above.

I have no idea how that typo happened. And I think I'd be disturbed to find out :)

mcg said...

Oops, I have to correct myself. It turns out, and I quote: "these researchers injected another woman's ooplasm - the substance inside the cell that contains the mitochondrial DNA and bathes the nucleus - into the egg cell of the mother with faulty mitochondrial DNA."

Ann Althouse said...

MCG: Regardless of what the precise step in this particular case is, don't you think the day will come when a child will be produced by combining the genetic material of two women — and no man?

I don't really know why public resources should be used to do research like that. It looks like the current research is tied to trying to avoid passing on a hereditary disease.

mcg said...

Oh, sure ,Ann, I certainly grant that it is theoretically possible. But I think it's pretty far away. Not that I'm an embryologist or anything, but as far as my casual reading goes we're far off from figuring out the precise recipe for fertilization. And when they do succeed, I wouldn't be surprised if the first successes actually require the participation of a sperm in some manner (say, its genetic material is replaced with that of another mother's ovum or something like that.)

I also agree that this particular reserach has more genuine merit than the true "two mothers" case. This research aims to be a method to prevent certain debilitating disorders that occur in a certain fraction of children.

leeontheroad said...

"the day will come when a child will be produced by combining the genetic material of two women — and no man? "

If that became posible (which I can't see now, frankly), one wouldn't need two women. One would do.

And, jeepers, what would be the fun in that?

Oh, right: not having to agree about childrearing ;-)

Jeff said...

Rather than "two mothers", it seems the child would have three parents, one father as well as two mothers, so to speak. Or am I missing something?

The countdown to the Clone Wars continues apace...

mcg said...

Jeff, you are right---but to be fair, the second mother is not contributing to the genetic makeup of the child in nearly as a significant way as the first mother and the father. So for example, the child will not get its looks, hair color, eye color, general physical makeup, etc. from that second mother.

Slocum said...

MCG: Regardless of what the precise step in this particular case is, don't you think the day will come when a child will be produced by combining the genetic material of two women — and no man?

Well, but if that were possible, it would also be possible to create an embryo from 1 woman (clone) or 1 man (clone) or two men (DNA from sperm cells). With two men you could, in theory, create either boys or girls -- but two women could create only girls. Unless you managed to get a donor Y chromosome from a 3rd individual's cell. And then, of course, there's the future possibility of an artificial womb....

Steven said...

Regardless of what the precise step in this particular case is, don't you think the day will come when a child will be produced by combining the genetic material of two women — and no man?

Hard to say. Normal mammilian development requires both male-imprinted and female-imprinted genes. You'd have to figure out a way to de-imprint and then re-imprint the genes of one mother in order to create a viable embryo.

The closest anybody's been able to do to that is to take the not-fully-impinted eggs from a fetal mouse with a mutation that makes some of the genes resemble male-imprinted genes, and that took hundreds of attempts. Doing the same with fully-imprinted adult eggs from a non-mutant would be vastly more complicated.

Eli Blake said...

It isn't a bit disturbing to me.

The article makes it clear (as MCG points out) that those of you who are getting all out of sorts about this maybe haven't even read it. All it does is creates a healthy fetus instead of a diseased one. What is wrong with that?

And, as far as two lesbians deciding at some time in the future to merge their DNA and have a baby, what is wrong with that? What is so darn wrong with wanting to have children by the person you are in love with? And if they do, how would it impact your life?
If I remember right, I once read something about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe some of you conservatives need to read it again.

I always get a kick out of people who are always out on a witch hunt looking for some kind of 'gay' threat everytime something new comes along.

Mark the Pundit said...

So someday soon, Heather may indeed have TWO mommies!

Ann Althouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ann Althouse said...

Eli: I just don't think public sources of funding should flow into research like that. It's similar to cosmetic plastic surgery to me, something that a wealthy person could buy, not immoral, but so obviously less important than other sorts of medical research. The article interests me in part because the research is justified as related to dealing with a disease. But if someone has a hereditary disease they could just have children that aren't biologically related to them.

And I do understand people's desire to pass along their genes. That's a private matter and not an especially worthy aspiration. And I support gay rights.

Bruce Hayden said...

I do agree with Ann that I don't want to see government funds funding this sort of thing. But other than that, I can't get too worked up about it.

The problem, as I see it, is that the genetic problem being addressed here is passed to all of a woman's children, and then to all of the children of her daughters, etc. So, without this, we are condemming them to this disease in perpetuity, as long as they continue to breed.

The problem, to some extent, is that we are short circuiting natural selection through modern medicine. In the past, this sort of thing would probably have died out. But now, we can keep people with it alive for long enough that they can breed.

So, maybe, just maybe, by developing the ability to keep people with otherwise harmful genes alive long enough to breed, we owe them the fixing of those genes so that they are not perpetuated.

Bruce Hayden said...

steven may be right that we are quite a ways away from being able to create an viable human embryo from two males or two females. BUT, things are moving quite quickly in that area.

What does it mean that mamalian reproduction requires male imprinted genes and female imprinted genes? We may not know right now, but I suspect that it isn't going to be that long until we know, and when we do know what that means, we can probably get around it.

To some extent, this is somewhat like the investigation into stem cells - why do they differenciate? Why, in ordinary circumstances, can't a liver cell turn into a skin cell? A similar type of genetic imprinting? But recently researchers were able to get, I believe, bone marrow cells to turn into heart cells, helping to repair damaged hearts.

Yes, we have a long way to go, but I see a lot of progress being made.

chuck b. said...

Offspring produced from two women would always be female, never male, because "normal" women have XX not XY sex chromosomes.

Men, on the other hand, could theoretically make both male and female offspring. So I guess men are better than women after all! :)

For men however, the matter of mitochondrial DNA comes into play, because that always descends matrilineally. So if nothing else, men at least need women for their mitochondria. (Check out the Wikipedia article on Mitochondrial Eve if you're interested).

(Perhaps there might be some opportunity along the line to change one X chromosome into a Y; some biologists consider the Y nothing more than a degenerate X. Perhaps that's an aspect of Althouse's oft-stated theory about researchers' tendencies to biologically superiorize females.)

Steven said...

It's true that progress is being made in biotech, and it's not obviously impossible. But compared to successfully mixing two same-sex haploid chromosome sets to create a viable embryo, human cloning is downright simple.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think though that chuck's post just implies that we would need to take the mitochondria from someone to create a male-male embryo. But, following this, we could potentially have one with 47 parents, one for each chromosone, and one for the mitochondria.

Just imagine the effects this would have on child support law.

Along this line, I would ask Steve, in response to his suggestion that we need both male imprinted and female imprinted genes, if this is on a per-chromosone pair basis? Or is there some threshold - for example, could we get by with, say, 40 male imprinted chromosones and 6 female imprinted chromosones?

JB said...

I don't really know what to think about the whole idea, I don't really care all that much, but considering the article, I think it might be more accurate to say

"Two mothers at the cellular level."

In fact, it appears that the child would have two mothers, and 1 father, but a father and mother contributing the genetic material.

Diane said...

Bruce;

Actually they get rid of that problem quite nicely, as the problem resides solely in the woman’s mitochondrial DNA, and the woman’s mitochondrial DNA is carried *INSIDE THE MITOCHONDRIA*. We are simply speeding up natural selection by getting rid of the step where the woman suffers through the agony of miscarriages and unhealthy children. When you borrow the cytoplasm from another woman, you borrow all of her organelle DNA.

And you’ve hit on why I am in favor of genetic engineering in humans. I have a friend with Cystic Fibrosis. Her mother had Cystic fibrosis and survived just long enough to give birth to her in her early twenties. With genetic engineering we can break this vicious cycle of motherless children.

Of course when I point out my line of reasoning, I get called “Eugenicist” and worse.

Meade said...

Moving right along...

Just Me said...

someone suggested you woudn't need two eggs, of course you would or else you would end up with a haploid zygote and that would not be viable...

reminds me of a book I ready called the Y chromosome written by Leona Gom... a future where men fail to thrive, and humanity finds a way to merge two eggs, of course all the resulting children are female (being no more y chromosome). Interesting book that describes pretty much how humanity reacts and what happens.

the thing about all this however in real life is that they can do it with two male chromosomes as well... two natural birth parents who can create and mate, no more of that right wing garbage about marriage and creation.

Miss Batman said...

hmm... Well, the article on BBC isn't really about the baby having two mothers, the baby doesn't have the same genetic information as both women - it only has some of the mitochondria which is transplanted into the egg cell which does go on to the rest of the child's cells...
saying the ooplasm donor is the baby's third parent is like saying you have an extra parent when you have some other kind of organ transplant...
Or maybe I just think in strange and backwards ways..

To go into the issue further and look at creating an embryo from two parents of the same gender is an interesting one... My first ideas/theories about how this could possibly work was similar to designer baby techniques, fertility treatments, cloning and surrogacy... remove the nuclei from the two sex cells and fertilse them together and put the, now diploid, nucleus into a hollowed out ovum and then into a mother's/surrogate mother's womb.
The DNA would have to be picked out carefully so not to get some deformed alien like thing (imagine paring two Y chromosones together!)
I only came up with this with GCSE level education and a wild imagination so it is a strong possiblity that I've made up a whole load of b/s
If you're reading this and know more about genetics, do tell if I've been thinking in right directions...

scientists could develop an egg from the PCGs of a man wishing to pair his genetic material with his partner’s sperm. Similarly, a woman’s PCG could be developed into sperm cells that could be used to fertilize her partner’s eggs.
I found this increadibly amazing! This has changed my theory all together! If this really can happen, then a lot of the ethical, moral and legal issuse dissappear! Two mothers could both be birth parents and so could two men! It's just WOW!

Shame that religion would be against this... but it's still an amazing development for genetics and homosexuals...

IamMe said...

I love this.
Me and my Wife are in the process of getting this done.
It's provided us the opportunity to be able to have kids of both of Our DNA.
And we are both christian and have a strong belief in God, but anyone who has a judging comment on what technology is doing for us, who is Christian is sinning as much as us lesbians are.

So if you don't approve because of the bible and you feel the need to judge.
Then pray you need it.
But you have to know the world was never meant to not move forward.
So as technology grows and brings forth new growths and developments, openness will always take you farther, then closed mindedness.