Rethinking the Ingredients for Human Life New research suggests same-sex couples (or even individuals) may someday be able to produce their very own offspring

It looks like the church may be in for yet another rude awakening over its belief that life begins at conception, that is, when the egg and the sperm merge. Researchers from the University of Bath published new research this week in the journal Nature Communications showing a way to produce healthy mouse embryos through the saturation of chemically modified mitotic cells (dividing cells) with sperm cells, in lieu of mammalian eggs.

This discovery contradicts the previously assumed belief that only sperm could successfully transfer genetic instructions into egg cells. The scientists achieved these results by tricking unfertilized eggs to undergo mitosis (cell division) by placing them in a solution of strontium chloride. After the egg cells had advanced beyond the egg stage and into mitotic cells, they implanted the sperm into the mitotic cells and found that healthy embryos were able to form. These healthy embryos were placed into surrogate mothers, who then gave birth to many healthy mice that were also capable of sexual reproduction. As Gizmodo points out in their coverage of this discovery, this is starting to rattle the cages of the church’s claims that life begins at the “union” of the egg and the sperm. Furthermore, this raises a lot of questions about what cells other than mitotic cells might be able to successfully host a sperm and allow it to develop into healthy mammalian embryos. “This is the first time that anyone has been able to demonstrate that embryos can reprogram a differentiated cell of any kind,” Dr. Tony Perry, senior researcher and molecular embryologist of the University at Bath, told the Scientist. “It might one day mean that we could generate embryos from other cell types—perhaps even somatic cells, perhaps skin cells, for example.” This is where Pandora’s box opens if you’re a member of the religious right. We really don’t have enough research just yet to know where this discovery might take us. It may be that we will discover other host cells, as Perry pointed out, that will be able to host the sperm cells and allow for embryonic development. If this were to happen, the implications are astounding. Gay male couples could effectively produce genetic offspring, who are solely comprised of their own DNA. Perhaps another such discovery might uncover a way to do the reverse by reprogramming sperm. This would allow women to replace the male DNA in a sperm cell with their own DNA, enabling lesbian couples to have children comprised solely of the couple’s genes. Even further, perhaps an asexual person with no desire for a partner could have a child with himself or herself, with the help of a surrogate mother to carry the child to term. It’s really hard to say at this time whether any of the possibilities are able to become a reality, because the research is at such an early stage and understandably limited at this time. However, if we encourage this research to continue, we may see the societal boundaries defining what constitutes a happy, healthy family continue to expand.