Researchers in Pennsylvania have developed a way to turn ordinary mouse cells into egg cells, an advance that the researchers say eventually could allow human males to turn their own ordinary cells into eggs cells that could be fertilized by another male's sperm, The Washington Post reports. The researchers wrote in the May 1 online edition of the journal Science that they used ordinary cells from both male and female mice embryos to create egg cells. If the science holds true in humans, gay-male couples may be able to produce children through sexual reproduction with one partner providing the egg and the other the sperm.
"It's absolutely remarkable," said Lee Silver, a Princeton molecular biologist who specializes in reproductive ethics. "This breaks down all the classic barriers in terms of sexual reproduction, with none of the problems of cloning."
But some in the medical and scientific communities are already worried about the ethical implications of the research. "Some of the applications will be seen as straightforward boons to humankind, such as for women who can't make healthy eggs the usual way," said Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y. "But as with just about any medical development, there will be other uses that will give people hiccups, if not fits." The research also could raise legal questions, other health experts said. For example, would courts recognize the male whose cells produced an egg that resulted in childbirth as the child's biological mother? Would new custody laws need to be established to address same-sex biological parents?
For now, the researchers plan to continue their studies on mice and other animals, with the goal of eventually producing human eggs out of ordinary male and female cells. They next plan to determine whether mice eggs fertilized with sperm will produce healthy embryos and eventually healthy mice. They also plan studies to see whether it is possible to create sperm from ordinary mouse cells, which could open the door to research allowing lesbian couples to conceive children with the genes from both partners.