Biologists have managed to reprogram stem cells taken from a male mouse into female oocytes, then fertilized them with sperm from another male mouse, and produced healthy offspring — that is, they’ve made mice with two fathers. This is an expected, incremental advance in stem cell research, and not surprising at all.
The creationists at Answers in Genesis are made somewhat uncomfortable about this, since it violates their fantasies about the rigidity of sex determination, and recruited their tame in-house crank with a Ph.D., Nathaniel Jeanson to write a rationalization for them. It’s pathetic. He correctly summarizes the basics of the procedure, but then his brain falls out.
He decides that what he just described didn’t happen.
But can two adult males (mice, in this case) have their cells reprogrammed to produce eggs? Don’t males normally produce sperm, not eggs? How can offspring be produced from “two dads”?
In short, they can’t.
But that’s what the experiment did: they reprogrammed cells from adult males to produce eggs. His little essay described exactly what they did, which was that. How does he suddenly backtrack on everything?
For two males to reproduce, you have to first convert the cells from one of the males into female cells. And no, I’m not talking science fiction. This is what the researchers actually did.
They first reprogrammed cells from both male mice back to an embryonic state. At this stage of the process, the cells were all still male—possessing both an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. Then they waited for cells from one of the males to lose their male genetic material—the Y chromosome.4 At this stage, these genetically deficient cells now possessed only a single X chromosome, no Y chromosome.
These genetically deficient cells were poor candidates for producing eggs. To produce eggs, you need cells that have two X chromosomes. Consequently, as a next step, the researchers chemically induced these genetically deficient cells to return to a “normal” genetic state. They chemically forced them to have two chromosomes again—to realize an XX (rather than XY) chromosome state.
Effectively, they deleted the genetic instructions for “male” from one line of reprogrammed male cells, turning them genetically into female cells. Voilà, now they could produce eggs.
Yes? They took cells from a male mouse and turned them into female cells that could differentiate into eggs. They produced offspring from two dads. In short, they can.
It’s only been done in mice, and it’s a long, long way to being repeatable in humans, but this is exactly the procedure two gay men could use to have children together. Jeanson wants to argue, though, that the male mice did not have children — instead, he produced a “daughter,” a single cell, that then produced offspring.
By the way, if this strikes you as impossible, consider the fact that adult males regularly produce females. Dads have sons and daughters. Normally, these females (daughters) are produced with the help of a woman. In this study of two “dad” mice, the female “offspring” were produced in the culture dish—in a process that, in some respects, resembles the process of cloning.
So, no, two “dads” did not sire offspring together. Instead, using new genetic tools and tricks, researchers bypassed the normal process of reproduction to turn male cells into female cells and then joined the resulting sperm and egg.
Thus, even these researchers could not circumvent the biological realities for gender that God hardwired into creation from the beginning. They just went about the process of reproduction in a more perverse way.
By this goofy reasoning, no adult is a parent — we only produce spermatogonia/oogonia, single celled precursors to gametes, that are the actual parents, and mommies can be nothing but a transient single-celled stage on the way to making a zygote. Those “hardwired” “biological realities” seem to be entirely circumventable, although only with considerable technical finagling. Or, if you prefer, we could argue that his god has incorporated some remarkable flexibility in how sex develops.
I mean, seriously, two daddy mice did have offspring together. That’s the simple blunt reality of this result.
Get used to it.
Snarki, child of Loki says
Insane reaction, considering that hard-core christianists worship a guy that had “two daddies”, and the fundies that insist that every word in their holy text is literally true: the “X begat Y begat Z” gives Joseph with two daddies.
You could say it runs in the family.
Wow, that’s a mightily careless stem cell, losing an entire functional chromosome!
Not methylated, otherwise silenced, excised, but simply mislaid it over time or something.
I’ve not read the original paper, exactly how was the Y removed? I’m sure it was labor intensive, as such work usually tends to be, with failures aplenty until the desired cell is produced.
But, his take is pathologically fascinating! Such confabulation speaks volumes to deficient thought processes.
And I’m quite serious.
Given, when even parts of a chromosome get mislaid, cellular death occurs or worse, cancer is born.
This is a fine example of the thought processes of graduates from the school of not thinking things they don’t comprehend through.
Matt G says
The DNA came from two male mice. Therefore, the mice have two daddies. So simple a child could understand it, but not a creationist.
Children are able to learn and curious and try to understand. Creationists it seems not so much. By their own choice to be wilfully ignorant and unwilling to learn or think. Beyond coming up with convoluted rationalisations anyhow.
Could we get a link to the original paper, PZ?
Don’t worry, the red legislatures will immediately start making and passing bills to make this procedure illegal.
Some will even try to have those scientists arrested.
Pierce R. Butler says
But was the offspring mouse gay, or a real male?
Am I misreading something or in his haste to discredit gay people did he just acknowledge trans people? I mean, he’s still an empty headed weirdo who seems like he’d think trans women are the daughters of their prior male selves but maybe in a couple more decades he’ll catch up.
At this stage, these genetically deficient cells now possessed only a single X chromosome, no Y chromosome.
It is amazing how a cell that now lacks the Y is deficient in his critique.
Perhaps he is thinking of Zeus and Athena?
Happy spring equinox, everyone!
“but then his brain falls out”
It brings me back to Spitting Image in the 1980s “The president’s brain is missing!”.
Well th3y aren’t really two “daddy”mice. One of them is a “mommy mouse”. She contributed the egg ( and the mitochondria).
@ ^ chris61 : But the mommy mouse was and is still male so yeah.. Nah.
@12. birgerjohansson : back when itwa sreagun’s sanity people worried about. Since then there’s at least a couple of POTUS’es that did at least metaphorically seem to be missing brains – Dubya & Trump. Sadly, the idea of POTUS without cerebration seems to cause a lot less alarm now than it arguably should.
Well that very much depends on how you define a “mommy”. “Mommy” provides the egg so”mommy” is “mommy” regardless of whether the mouse identifies as male. Which I suspect the mouse probably does.
@ ^ chris61 : FWIW. “Mommy” is either very British or very (certain parts of?) American. We call them Mums here in Oz.
More importantly what Matt G said in comment 3 here.
StevoR @ 15
Spitting Image featured Reagan’s brain out on various adventures. One raunchy example shoved it being mounted by turtle in a Richard Attenborough documentary.
Typo . Should be “showed”, spell check malfunction
“Mother” is an AI on a spaceship owned by Weyland-Yutani (a likely future sponsor of Fox News and the Republicans).
No, “mommy” is definitely not British: here it’s “mum” or “mummy”. So the really crucial question is: were they British, American or Australian mice?
chigau (違う) says
Which one carries the fetus?
Mums are flowers
Gee….I wonder what his take is on the “sexually indifferent” stage all human embryos go through during development lol…or the many slips between cup and lip that can occur no matter WHAT your sex chromosomes say? Creationists are such one-note musicians…a whole universe out there to learn about, and they harp on one meme incessantly – how intellectually stultifying..
bcw bcw says
I’m going to be the first with my children’s book “Mickey’s Got Two Daddies.” I think the mouse is finally out of copyright.
Though only with the blessing of a superior being.
@13, males still have mitochondria, indeed sperm have shit tons of mitochondria. They’d be incapable of swimming without them.
But, in this case, a stem cell was differentiated into an egg, rather than any other cell, fertilized by the other male and it proceeded according to the standard fertilized egg programs in the DNA.
Wow! 5 out of 87 yield of Y removed is actually much higher than I expected! By around 3, which is really good results at the outset!
Loads of tedious, precision work involved in this one.
My point was, assuming the fertilized egg did indeed proceed to develop according to a standard fertilized egg program, only one of those mice contributed its mitochondrial DNA to the resulting embryo – making it the de facto “mommy mouse”.
Alan G. Humphrey says
Now a new kind of human cloning is possible. Just have the man provide both the stem cells for the eggs and some sperm. But let’s not tell Elon or he’ll colonize Mars all by hincelf.
My point was only one of those mice contributed it’s mitochondrial DNA to the resulting embryo – making it the de facto “mommy mouse”.
@30, I’m quite certain you’ll not be the first to suggest that Elon go colonize himself.
Alan G. Humphrey says
Yes, wzrd1, I also considered a similar pun with the human cloning lead-in.
John Morales says
But Elon is boring.
@chris61 In humans we base mother/father on the gender of the parent, not the cellular biology involved. The parent who carries the baby is still a father if they identify as such.
The idea of gender in animals is a lot less clear (since we can’t just ask) but there isn’t any reason to consider this mouse female rather than male.
In this case neither biological parent carried the embryo as neither had a uterus. But the parent contributing the egg would be the biological mother, biologically speaking. Not that the mouse itself would be aware of this. The offspring would be gestated by a surrogate.
John Morales says
What’s with all this confusion!
Quoth PZ: “Yes? They took cells from a male mouse and turned them into female cells that could differentiate into eggs.”
Neither parent mouse contributed an egg.
They only thing they contributed was stem cells.
There is no “the biological mother”.
Rich Woods says
I expect the planet would end up something like Rimmerworld.
Ada Christine says
i will give them all of my money forever if they can remove my y chromosome
Actually only one mouse contributed cells. A bit of tail that was converted into stem cells in a Petrie dish. The second contributed sperm. (The offspring were created via IVF.) In any case the contributions of the two mice were not the same so call them parent 1 and parent 2 if you like. Only one is a biological “daddy”.
Well, sperm are cells. At least, the last time I looked they were.
Actually, unique and fascinating cells in their own right. Just the mitochondrial placement is something worthy of much study!
I will rephrase. Only one mouse contributed cells that were used to create stem cells.
Answers in Genesis complaining about something scientific. (Yawn) nothing to see here, folks, move along
Might make cloning extinct animals with only one sex easier
@chris61, yep, a fair number of cells for only a few to successfully drop the Y. But, at a bit higher yield than I expected. Tedious looking work!
I wonder just how much better at doing so they’ll be in 20 years!
Losing Y chromosomes upon propagating in a lab was a feature of stem cells that’s been known for some time. Duplication of the X though is a new observation as far as I know. But it’s unlikely to be moving into humans any time soon, if only because propagating stem cells also causes them to accumulate mutations. Plus of course it’s one thing to implant over 600 mouse embryos to get 7 live pups but it would be difficult to find that many human surrogates.
My point was both early and end point, the yield was nearly double what I’d tend to expect. It’s actually close to the maximum at the Y stage, which is rather an outlier on the high end.
Either their techniques are sterling and the technologies involved fully mature or they were extremely fortunate.
As for moving to humans, I can’t think of a single reason anyone would want such an immature, novel thing done with humans. Especially given that even starting to do so would bring a world of legal hurt upon the team trying it.
As for stem cell propagating accumulating mutations, yeah, it’d be a major advance that’d be universally welcomed if the mutation rate could be as close to eliminated as to not matter overall. I figure the chances of that happening within my grandchildren’s time to be one of three chances. Slim, fat and none. Pluripotency isn’t preserved for a reason, otherwise the versatility would be conserved. In a real way, one could say that the more features that are actively available, the more that can go wrong and importantly, DNA hypomethylation is associated with mutations in cancers. As is hypermethylation, evolution is a balancing act.
This reminds me of The Starlost episode “The Goddess Calabra”. First broadcast 1973 October 6, this predates the paper cited. Prior knowledge.