By Richard Alleyne
SCIENTISTS have created offspring using the DNA from two fathers, in a genetic first that could help save endangered species.
The process involved creating a female clone of one of two male mice and then mating it with the other male — thereby creating offspring from two fathers.
According to the study, published in the journal ‘Biology of Reproduction’, scientists were able to re-engineer cells from a male mouse foetus into stem cells — the “master cells” that can turn into any other cell in the body. These cells are adult cells that have undergone some genetic reprogramming in order to return them to an embryonic stem-cell-like state.
Some of the cells grown from this new line spontaneously lost their Y chromosome, turning them into female versions of the original cells.
Those cells were injected into embryos from donor female mice and transplanted into surrogate mouse mothers who gave birth to babies with DNA from the original male mouse. Those babies grew and later mated with normal male mice. Their offspring, both male and female, showed genetic contributions from both fathers.
The study was led by Dr Richard Berhringer at Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Texas.
Researchers said that with a variation of their technique, “it may also be possible to generate sperm from a female donor and produce viable male and female progeny with two mothers”.
While the achievement is technically intriguing, its practical benefits are far from clear.
Any move to try the same experiment with humans is certain to be more complicated and controversial.
The study cautioned that the ability to replicate the findings in humans was a long way off.
The “generation of human cells still requires significant refinements prior to their use for therapeutic purposes”, the study said.
Previous research has found ways to create mice without any fathers, as well as ways to create mice with two mothers. New techniques are allowing scientists to tweak the biology of reproduction in unusual ways.