Saturday, July 31, 2010

Same-Sex Reproduction...A Not So Far Off Possibility?

As much as anti-gay pundits bang the drum that gays cannot biologically reproduce, we are no strangers to the process. Many gay couples are raising children from previous marriages and others may have built their family with surrogacy or invitro Fertilization. Their are plenty of same-sex families out their raising children biologically related to at least one partner....but what if you could have a child that is biologically, a product of BOTH partners...think it can't be done? Well, not so might be catching up with us.

Recently, I recieved a tip from a Youtube viewer about about a blog called The Chomosome Chronicles and a recent post regarding sexual reproduction for same-sex couples using a process of inducing adult skin cells to become a form of stem cell and then convincing that stem cell to become a sperm or and egg with the same DNA of the donor.

Wow...perhaps we really do live in the fantastic future where science fiction is becoming our science fact. I still wonder what happened to my flying car and robot maid. The world of genetics is exploding with new developments but you don't hear about its developments as often as you do about the newest tech gadget. Perhaps is because advancements in the field bring as much trepidation and questions as they do wonders. Just like fears of technology become played out in movies and television, warning that our technologies will seek to destroy us. So do biological and genetic advancements have their shadows to haunt our dreams.

but first...I am no scientist and will probably get a detail or two wrong, but I think a laymans explanation is in order...the article is very clear in pointing out that this break through is only theoretical at this point and is based some remarkable recent developments:

The first is the ability to induce adult skin cells to become "pluripotent stem cells"...the type of stem cell most often attributed for its ability to develop into almost any other kind of cell....through a process called "celular reprograming". The resulting stem cell would have dna genetically identical to its donor. This process would be an altenative to using embryonic stem the skin cells we have reprogramed into stem cells can then be encouraged to differentiate into sperm or eggs.

The remarkable thing is that the donor can be anyone. A male same sex couple can have one parters skin cells reprogrammed then differentiated into and egg containing his DNA...then the second partners sperm is combined with the egg and then placed within a surrogate womb....the resulting child would be a combination of both of their genetic profiles. Like wise, the process would work the same for a female couple with the additional fact that one of them could carry the child to term.

However, the process has some limitations as the article details. For male couples, since we carry both and "X" and a "Y" chromosome...there is a 50% chance that the "Y" chromosome could be passed on into the egg resulting an in embryo with two "Y"s...which would not survive. Their is also the additional consideration of having to find someone willing to carry the child.

Female couples would only be able to produce female children...having no "Y" chromsomes to contribute.

Even with its limitations...this is a pretty incredible thing to . Its as complicated as surrogacy but has the upside of child that is the product of both partners. As apposed to traditional surrogacy which would be the dna of only one partner plus an additional person outside the relationship who could potentially decide later on down the road that they want to assert parental rights. the case of a male couple...would the woman donating her womb still be considered the mother in the eyes of the law even though the child is not biologically related to her? It would seem that the answer to that would be a common sense "no"...but we are dealing with the state here and common sense does not always apply when we get into the realm of the state and same-sex issues. In addition, I'm sure the process will be quite expensive...making it an option for all but a few. It was also expressed in no uncertain terms that this process is not commercially available nor was the writer of the article aware of anyone working toward that goal...only that the potential techniques existed.

It does however, put a new wrinkle in the debate of adoption vs. surrogacy. The standard objection to surrogacy being, why go to the trouble/expense of bringing another child into the world when there are so many children waiting for home and someone to love them. How important is having a child that is gentically linked to you and your partner? as commentors in Craigs wednesday post pointed out....for many same-sex couples in places where adoption is illegal to them, having a biological child is the only option for creating a family. Now a young same-sex couple can begin that fantasy process of imagining what a child brought about by a pairing of them and someone they desire would look like...a process previously only engaged in by heterosexuals. Next time you fall in love, you will be able to look at that person and imagine what your babies would look like...thats heady stuff and Its alot to think about, even if its not actually available...yet.

I can already see that certain people in the religious right would be very upset by this and the accusations of tampering with nature will abound. But whats so different between this and traditional surrogacy? It would not use embyonic stem cells...which is something that makes many uncomfortable, even outside the religious right. This would simply be akin to many of the other fertility treatments already being practiced....and has just as much application to infertile heterosexual couples as it does to same-sex couples. That fact however, will not stop some people from painting this process as an unatural manipulation of nature.

Opinions and forecasts of doom will abound. For myself...If adoption is available, it makes more sense considering how many children are out there in need of homes. I love my children immensely and can not imagine loving a biological child any more than I do them. As I always tell my kids..."they may not have come from my body, but they come from my heart". To me...thats a stronger bond than blood.

Until next time dear readers....


  1. Believe me, you've only seen a GLIMPSE of what is happening in medicine these days.

    Our generation (Those of us in our 30's and 40's) will be the first to see average lifespan stretch into the 90's. And kids born today will see 100 or even more.

    And then of course there's the stuff that DARPA is working on. Totally sci-fi, E.g. a spray on stem cell that can regenerate destroyed bone and soft tissues, or metabolic 'dimming', or even autonomous robotic surgery pods.

    In essence, a lot of the stuff I read about and watched in science fiction is coming to fruition.

  2. That answers one question and brings up another.

    One of the big problems with creating a foetus with two parents of the same sex is that some genes can "tell" which parent they came from, and act differently depending on whether they come from the mother or the father. This is why Angelman and Prader Willi syndromes can be caused by an identical genetic mutation - in Angelman, the mutation is maternally inherited while in Prader Willi it is paternally inherited. If you use sperm or egg cells, you need to change the epigenetic markers that tell the genes how to act.

    This solution avoids the problem by bypassing it. As long as scientists know which genes, and therefore which chromosomes, are affected, they can segregate chromosomes based on which of the grandparents it came from, so that the markers are inherited from the grandparents rather than the parents. However the solution to that problem raises another, one directly related to mammalian cloning: what are they going to do about the telomeres?

    Telomeres are a section found at the end of every chromosome which help prevent the chromosome from disintegrating. They're a form of safety system that prevents damage to your genes by keeping them locked up tight when not in use. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres unravel so the chromosome can be duplicated, and each time a little bit gets broken off, so that the telomeres become gradually shorter over time. This happens at a steady rate, and is one of the key causes of aging. If you use a cell from an adult animal, any other animal created using that DNA will have the same length telomeres. The length of telomeres places a limit - the Heyflick limit - on cell replication and therefore on lifespan, which varies between organisms. When she was born, Dolly the Sheep, the first successful mammal clone, had a genetic age of six years old. She died six years later with a genetic age of twelve, the typical lifespan for her breed. So solving the telomere issue has to be a priority for this approach to work. I'm curious to see how they've done it!

    Oh, and I'd already thought about what your babies would look like, Bryan & Jay - they'd look like Ben Cohen.

    (Seriously - I think if you guys had a biological son, he'd look like Ben Cohen!)

    1. When for example these skin cells are reprogrammed to stem cells (ips) their telomeres will be regenerated by the cells itself :) Telomerase enzyme is in charge to make sure the telomeres of our gametes won't shorten. Otherwise our children would end up like Dolly
      the Sheep - die younger. Telomerase enzyme is only active in gametes and stem cells.

      So the gene imprinting, you mentioned, is actually the only problem in same-sex procreation :)

  3. I actually told my lesbian friend this yesterday!
    Awesome post

  4. Fascinating but currently irrelevant. I agree with you about adoption. Even when available this would be prohibitively expensive. I do have friends who have two kids and used a surrogate. One supplied the sperm and the other's sister donated the eggs. Amusingly enough one each looks very much like one each of the fathers.

  5. "...come from my heart." Once again, Bryan, you have a way with words that goes right to the "heart" of the matter. Pardon the pun.

    Your post covered so many issues. All of them excellent. First of all, flying cars are not too far in the future. There is already a prototype. See

    The robotic maid is called Roomba. Admittedly, it is not as smart as the one serving the Jetsons, but give it time.

    I don't know much about genetics, but I heard about Dolly and telemeres, and that was my first thought as well. Then again, with the growing acceptance of storing one's own embryonic stem cells from birth, it is likely that the issue is irrelevant because the eggs and sperms can be induced from these baby stem cells. This also reduces the cost (and potential problems) of an extra step to change adult skin cells into stem cells.

    The objection over manipulating nature is silly because the only significant science is the creation of the egg cell for men, and the sperm cell for women. But even these procedures do not necessarily change the DNA sequences, unlike some medical procedures to correct birth defect etc. As you already mentioned, this technology can also help straight infertile couples.

    Finally, the question of surrogacy over adoption is also not an issue because having children is a deeply personal experience and it would be wrong, in my humble opinion, to dictate what each couple decides. Live and let live. I think it is likely that gay couples who never thought of adopting children before, after going through this procedure of having their own biological children, will be more likely to adopt children in addition to raising their own. And once they live with their adopted children, as you said so beautifully, it won't matter if they were biological because love is from the heart. The more, the better.

  6. There's also these articles I found on wikipedia:

    I'm also wondering if a form of chimera baby would be possible from both same sex parents since some people are already born with a mix of 2 sets of DNA naturally, although extremely rare. It's why some people have one eye color in one eye and another eye color in another, and in some odd cases, hermaphroditism:

  7. this issss awesome! im excited to have beautiful children with my wife, if it becomes possible!

  8. My boyfriend told me about this a week or so ago, we plan on getting married (when same sex marriage is allowed here in AUS) and we plan on starting a family, i want to adopt, but i also want a child that is biologically both his and mine, but i know this wont actually work for a while... i hope it wont take much longer...

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