Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences circumvented God’s perfect design and used stem cells and gene-editing techniques to produce healthy mouse pups from two females—no fathers required.
God created mammals with a set number of pairs of chromosomes, which vary among species: 23 pairs for humans and 20 for mice. Each pair represents one chromosome inherited from the mother and one from the father. During embryonic development, a mechanism called genomic imprinting shuts off certain genes from each parent. Usually, because of imprinting, embryos that don’t receive genetic material from both a mother and a father die or develop genetic abnormalities.
The Chinese researchers managed to get around this, creating mouse pups by using stem cells with only the mother’s set of genes and DNA, according to the study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. They deleted three imprinting regions from one female’s stem cells and injected them into the eggs of another female mouse. The stem cells fertilized the eggs, which grew into embryos. From 210 such embryos the researchers produced 29 normal, live pups that lived to adulthood and produced babies.
The scientists used a similar technique to produce 12 mice with two genetic fathers and a surrogate mother, but they survived only 48 hours after birth.
When researchers first developed gene-editing techniques in the 1970s, they hailed them as a boon for research, with the potential to treat many human diseases. But, more recently, the discovery of faster, cheaper, and more efficient gene-modifying tools has enabled researchers to run experiments that have nothing to do with treating disease but have much to do with ethical dilemmas and moral decisions, as this new research shows.
Before scientists can use this technique on humans, they need to identify imprinted genes unique to each species and address ethical concerns about producing many offspring that either die or have severe abnormalities. This research represents a small but first step down a slippery slope toward designing our own version of humanity.
“This research shows us what’s possible,” Wei Li, one of the researchers, said in a statement.
Insect allies or weapons of bioterrorism?
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is hatching a highly controversial plan to protect crops.
The project, called the Insect Allies program, would infect bugs with lab-modified viruses and then turn them loose in farm fields. The insects would infect crops with the virus, which would edit the plants’ genes to strengthen them against droughts, frost, floods, pesticides, diseases, or even biological warfare, according to the organization’s website. But critics are concerned the technology could easily be used for bioterrorism if it should fall into the wrong hands.
Currently, many farmers use genetically engineered seeds, but that forces them to anticipate, before planting, what types of environmental conditions might threaten their crops. If a farmer wrongly predicts plenty of rainfall and does not use seeds engineered for drought resistance, an unexpected dry spell could devastate the crops. With the Insect Allies program, the genetic engineering could take place in the fields after the crops have been planted, at any time. The modifications would affect only one growing season.
But, in a paper published in the journal Science, an international team of lawyers and scientists argue that the Insect Allies program involves uncontrolled means of releasing synthetic viruses into the environment, and terrorists could easily use the technology for biological warfare.
People need to know about this program, which would hugely affect farmers, seed producers, and the public, wrote Guy Reeves, one of the paper’s authors. “There is hardly any public debate about the far-reaching consequences of proposing the development of this technology,” he said in a statement. “The Insect Allies program is largely unknown, even in expert circles.” —J.B.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Julie Borg