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Same-sex mice genetically engineered to have babies (bbc.com)
80 points by daegloe 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

Layman here, but I don't understand how the title follows from the article. It's not that same-sex mice were able to reproduce, it's that scientists modified their genes and cells (not even just sex cells) using "cutting-edge science" [sic] in a way they could artificially produce alive zygotes from two individuals of the same sex. How is this, for example, any different than cloning? We were able to clone a sheep (Dolly), but that doesn't mean sheep can perform asexual reproduction like starfish or hydras.

From the title I was expecting either scientists observed mice having same-sex reproduction under extreme conditions (e.g. their population is in great danger) or that scientists created an artificial environment in which mice were able to have same-sex reproduction. Being mammals, mice being able to do one of these would be groundbreaking and extremely surprising.

After some personal research, cloning usually uses somatic cells (aka non-reproductive cells) to make the same genetic copy of one animal, this is using reproductive cells and combining DNA from two animals, hence the difference. If we're talking about embryo-splitting "cloning", embryo splitting is creating an artificial twin by splitting the embryo into two, they're different from this procedure. All in all, I wouldn't call it cloning, this is more another form of artificial reproduction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_reproduction) of which cloning is a category of.


https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(18)3... (the actual journal entry)




It seems like your objection is semantic, and depends on the meaning of "have." Does it mean, strictly, vaginal birth? Natural conception? Does a Cesarean section count? Does artificial fertilization count? Only if it's in-vitro?

It is stipulated that the babies are the direct genetic descendants of, and only of, the two female mice, and it appears that the babies are physically under (at least one of) their care. So the babies were produced by artificial assortative mating and are under the care of their their parents. If you think that artificial reproduction of any kind isn't really "having babies", where do you draw the line between what is or is not artificial?

I concede that "have babies" obviously has some generally agreed upon connotation beyond the literal meaning of the words; if I picked up someones’ babies at the park and said I "had babies," my statement would be regarded as unreasonable by almost everyone.

I'm not writing this just to be pedantic. I think artificial reproduction is interesting and sometimes controversial, because it invalidates our assumptions about reproduction.

My objection is semantic but the semantic seems important in this case. We know all groups in animal kingdom have some sort of weird, sometimes extremely rare non-sexual reproduction patterns, except mammals. If the original title was correct, then this would be ground-breaking, we would have to go to Wikipedia and change some lines.

Thanks. It seems like the title changed during our conversation and I didn't know what it used to be, or when.

If the title displayed to me had been "Same-sex mice genetically engineered to reproduce asexually" I would have thought it implied that the new, artificial mouse genotype could reproduce asexually without further human intervention, which would be clearly incorrect.

Edit: Does sexual reproduction formally require sexual intercourse? At this point I'm out of my depth. :p

Original title was "Same-sex mice have babies" which is the title of the article. I think current title is perfectly fine, and is actually what's going on.

> Does sexual reproduction formally require sexual intercourse? At this point I'm out of my depth. :p

Yes, but not necessarily sex (e.g. pollination), but it's exclusively sex for mammals. We do not know of any other method for mammal reproduction other than sex. This puts mammals in a very weird spot since they're the only known group in animals that have not been observed to reproduce non-sexually.

It's the BBC, their quality of editorial content accuracy is terrible.

I remember when people would note, "It's the BBC," as a way of vouching for accuracy of news.

One of the things we got the BBC to do that still stands out from many other "news sources" today is they link their sources where applicable.

Part way down this story, for example, they link https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(18)3...

So, there you go, an actual journal article whose authors claim they did this.

They try and boil it down for the lay person, but often fail. It's nice that as you say they at least they include the sources.

The article itself seems pretty accurate.

The budget cuts and (resulting?) move to "clickbait" articles and reporting has started to show pretty badly in the last year or two, the amount of basic errors and typos they let through is definitely far higher than it used to be.

I'm with you on that, and hope someone with domain knowledge can weigh in here and explain if there's a subtlety I've missed, but surely the presence of embryonic stem cells, haploid or not, means that there had to be a sperm, and hence a male mouse, to produce the embryo from which the stem cells were extracted? Even if, being haploid, those stem cells contain only the mothers' DNA, or other means have been used to 'edit out' any traces of male influence, that doesn't suggest the whole process could be done start to finish using only females. Or have I misunderstood something?

(The title has been changed.)

Cloning involves only one parent. This is genetic material from two parents of the same sex.

By my understanding, this research has identified a small number of epigenetically regulated genes that affect the ability of two haploid sets to combine into a viable zygote.

The researchers proved their effect by knocking them out, probably with a CRISPR/Cas9-like deactivation complex. Future developments will have to instead epigenetically de-regulate and artificially re-regulate those target genes in order to produce a healthy adult organism.

They may eventually be able to make the haploid set from a stem cell masquerade as either the set from an egg or the set from a sperm, as required.

This was already done once, if I'm not mistaken, in Japan in 2004:


This is not exactly the same. That used the genetic information from two mouse egg cells. The Chinese study is using haploid mouse embryonic stem cells with genetic contribution from either an mouse egg (successful) or mouse sperm (unsuccessful).

Can you explain a difference in more lay terms? The experiment that @ppeetteerr points out, is that not a baby mouse created? And that baby is from the genetic information of 2 mothers?

You also mentioned the Japanese study used egg cells, while this one uses haploid cells... aren't egg cells haploid?

Yes, in both cases baby mice were made. And yes, eggs and sperm are haploid. But the difference here is that the starting cells were embryonic stem cells -- that is, they are cells that are "pluripotent" -- that is cells that haven't yet been programmed to be any particular cell type. So it is a more difficult accomplishment than just working with two eggs.

The paper says

> Using immature oocytes with a deletion of the H19 imprinted region, Kono et al. (2004) produced the first mice from two mothers [...] bipaternal reproduction, which has only been found in specific fish (Corley-Smith et al., 1996), has not been achieved in mammals until now.

so I guess a mouse with two mothers existed before, and they now also made a mouse with two fathers.


I think you may be reading a different article. I just read it and don't see anything about them engineering the female mice to produce sperm and a penis as you note. Rather it says, "It was easier with double mums. The researchers took an egg from one mouse and a special type of cell - a haploid embryonic stem cell - from another. Both contained only half the required genetic instructions or DNA, but just bringing them together wasn't enough. The researchers had to use a technology called gene editing to delete three sets of genetic instructions to make them compatible." Also it "did work" with the male mice it notes, however they died a few days later, vs the females who had healthy babies that went on to have their own babies.

This is incorrect. Actually, the method used looks a lot like traditional cloning, with some gene editing thrown in:

    The researchers took an egg from one mouse and a special type of cell - a haploid embryonic stem cell - from another.
    Both contained only half the required genetic instructions or DNA, but just bringing them together wasn't enough.
    The researchers had to use a technology called gene editing to delete three sets of genetic instructions to make them compatible.

oh i was thinking of a different experiment

Please link the other experiment

What? No.

Enabling female mice to reproduce without needing males involved would significantly reduce the risks of a mouse uprising against their overlords.

What sick minded individual thought this is important to find out? So many of these science experiments amplify the reverberations of eugenics in my mind. Justifying the torture of animals in the pursuit of knowledge and good deed.

This is a classic debate — but I think it's mixing two very different ethical questions.

* Should any two people be able to reproduce using their own genes? Should a homosexual couple, or an individual with a gamete disorder have that option?

* Is it worth mouse suffering? More broadly, is any medical research worth animal suffering? It is routine. Is there a difference between animals suffering at the hands of humans vs suffering in the wild? Honestly laboratory protocols are often more humane than what happens in my backyard every day.

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