Same-Sex Couples on the Verge of Producing Their Own Biological Children

Humans are reproductive beings. Traditionally, the process of conception and reproduction requires the fusing of two gametes, male and female. This involves the fertilization of a female ovum or egg by a male sperm resulting in a diploid zygote housing genetic materials from both individuals.Baby

The sex of the resulting fetus is usually determined by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, which can only be supplied by a sperm. This process can happen via various methods other than the conventional coitus.

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For same-sex female couples, their options are usually limited and they have options like intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, and adoption. However, they cannot have children who are biologically related to both partners or so we think.

The world is technologically advancing in such a way that in the near future, same-sex female couples can have children with genes from both partners.

The possibility of in vitro gametogenesis (IVG)

In vitro, gametogenesis is a promising research focus that may become established in the coming years. It is a reproductive technique that may become available to same-sex female couples sooner than expected.

IVG is the process of producing a gamete in vitro from somatic cells. This method uses 46XX somatic cells from either partner which are reprogrammed and used to produce sperm cells which will eventually be fertilized by the ovum of the other partner.

For embryogenesis to occur, human germ cells from both male and female gametes must be totipotent to eventually develop into embryos. IVG aims to copy this process, but this time, with cells obtained from two females, grown and differentiated in vitro; in the laboratory.

Research has made IVG possible and realistic. One method involves the extraction of embryonic stem cells (ESC) from the inner cell mass of blastocysts; 4 days post fertilization. ESCs are pluripotent cell types that can differentiate into any other type of cell or tissue.

Another method involves the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). This works by collecting somatic cells from either female partner and reprogramming them, making them pluripotent and conferring on them the ability to differentiate into various cell lines, including spermatozoa.

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Animal studies

IVG has been made possible in mice. In 2011, haploid sperm and ova were successfully created with cells from two male mice. In 2021, success was achieved in the creation of sperm from embryonic stem cells. However, these methods need further research. It is expected that these will soon be possible with human females.

IVG has the potential to solve fertility issues, not only for female same-sex couples but also for oncology cases that have reduced reproductive life spans.

Ethical implications

Many arguments for and against this topic have occurred. The idea of moving from animal to human studies provokes a lot of ethical concerns. The lack of safety data and evidence is a major stumbling block.

The regulatory guidelines concerning human embryo research do not allow embryo manipulation for more than 14 days. However, a recent review suggests that a timeline extension should be considered. Currently, all embryo research is still being done under 14 days, worldwide.

Another consideration is in the area of exploitation. Due to the highly palatable idea of having children with good genes, there is a high possibility that samples will be repeatedly gotten from a few sources leading to consanguinity.

Human studies

Scientists have been able to cause the differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells into early oogonia and prospermatogonia. This will give female same-sex couples the opportunity to create spermatozoa from their own cells.

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This process occurs in a culture system made up of xenogenic reconstituted ovaries and testes from the embryonic somatic cells of mice. If subsequently the culture systems are made up of human-derived somatic cells and the timeline is moved past 14 days, the resulting gametes have a better chance of survival. However, these human cells are difficult to procure and the use of dermal fibroblasts is being considered.

The usefulness of IVG

Reproduction used to be one male and one female but now, same-sex females can have biological children. The groundbreaking research done with stem cells can provide same-sex females with children produced with their genetic material. Currently, only mice have demonstrated successful live birth using cells from two individuals of the same sex. More studies and experiments are underway.

IVG can potentially be useful to people who suffer from genetic-based medical conditions. It allows them not to pass on aberrant genes to their children.

Currently, there are many scientific reasons why IVG should not be used for humans. However, if researchers are able to scale these hurdles, many same-sex couples will benefit from the technology.

Reference

Jian Min Deng, Kei Satoh, Hongran Wang, Hao Chang, Zhaoping Zhang, M. David Stewart, Austin J. Cooney, Richard R. Behringer, Generation of Viable Male and Female Mice from Two Fathers, Biology of Reproduction, Volume 84, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages 613–618, https://doi.org/10.1095/biolreprod.110.088831

Horer, Stefanie et al. “Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived In Vitro Gametogenesis and Synthetic Embryos-It Is Never Too Early for an Ethical Debate.” Stem cells translational medicine vol. 12,9 (2023): 569-575. https://doi.org/10.1093/stcltm/szad042

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In vitro, gametogenesis is a promising research focus that involves the process of producing a gamete in vitro from somatic cells.

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