(by Lance Erlick)
Over the past 15 years, scientists have made significant progress toward helping infertile couples and preventing the passing of genetic defects to children. At the same time, extension of this research could be used to allow two women to have children without men, meaning a child with two biological mothers and no father.
In 2001, Dr. Orly Lacham-Kaplan in Australia was looking for ways to help infertile men have children. Working with mice, she took genetic material from non-reproductive cells of a mouse’s body, split the DNA, and used it to fertilize an egg from another mouse. A 2013 story entitled How women could make babies without men references continued work by Dr. Lacham-Kaplan.
In 2005 British scientists were given approval to create human embryos with two genetic mothers and a genetic father. To help a prospective mother not transfer genes related to genetic diseases to her offspring, scientists took her fertilized egg and infused most of the genetic material into a donor’s unfertilized egg that did not have the mitochondria defects. The test was successful, but they did not implant the resulting eggs.
Scientists in China infused the genetic material from a woman with poor-quality eggs into a healthy donor egg. The woman became pregnant, but miscarried.
Another article, Genetic Disease Cured With Two Moms, talks about how, to correct defects in the mother’s mitochondria, scientists removed the DNA from a donor egg and inserted the DNA from the intended mother, and fertilized the egg. Thus, the child had one father and two mothers. This procedure was performed successfully on macaque monkeys, but could soon be performed to help humans with hereditary gene defects.
In 2009, Japanese scientists used the donor eggs from younger women to repair damage in an older woman’s eggs to improve her chances for having children.
This fertility research is close to allowing two women to have a child without a father. One technical difficulty is that genes, normally supplied by the father, control part of the human development process. But further research may find a way around this.
There has been the usual outcry that this research is unethical or that it violates the sanctity of religious beliefs. There are concerns that this could lead to new genetic defects for future generations. Some critics claim we are getting closer to genetically enhanced children. China banned certain research. Britain outlawed genetic modification of human eggs, but may relax its rules if they see benefits.
On the other hand, this research could be a boon to those who suffer from infertility or carry defective genes. Faulty mitochondrial genes are linked to some 50 medical disorders, including muscular dystrophy, which has brought the support of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
If history shows us anything, it’s that what humans can do, they will do. Given the progress in genetics over the past fifteen years, it’s hard to believe we won’t overcome the technical difficulties. Then we must ask what happens when men become obsolete to the miracle of having children?
Read The Rebel Within to see one possible outcome.