Fatherless mice go on to have their own pups

The bimaternal mice offspring- born to two mothers- later produced pups of their own

Mice were also born from two fathers (without a mother), but only survived for a couple of days.

Chinese scientists have produced healthy mice from two mothers, using stem cells and gene editing to create offspring without the involvement of male mice.

Study author Qi Zhou, a developmental biologist, said their findings showed "a new and clear way to produce offspring between same-sex mammals". Then some unnecessary cells are washed out of the eggs, leaving stem cells and one set of DNA in each egg.

That method sidestepped the problem of genomic imprinting but presents ethical and practical hurdles if this technology were to ever be considered for humans.

It wasn't the same case with mice with two fathers, the researchers pointed out, adding that they couldn't successfully breed.

Creating mice with two genetic fathers follows a similar, yet more complicated, path: Scientists must remove female genetic material from an egg, which is carried to term by a surrogate mother.

To produce their healthy bimaternal mice, Zhou and colleagues used what are called haploid embryonic stem cells (ESCs), which contain half the normal number of chromosomes and DNA from only one parent, and which the researchers believe were the key to their success. Those bimaternal babies grew up to be healthy adults, and in turn had their own kids.

According to United Kingdom newspaper The Times, researchers at China's Academy of Sciences edited the mice's DNA to sidestep the need for "male imprinted" genetic material from a male, effectively rewriting one set of female genes to do the job and create new life.

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So the study used haploid embryonic stem cells, which resemble "primordial germ cells, the precursors of eggs and sperm", said co-senior author Baoyang Hu. For example, there is a need to identify problematic imprinted genes that are unique to each species and ongoing concerns for the offspring that don't survive or that experience severe abnormalities.

Then CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing - which uses DNA and RNA sequences culled from bacteria to pinpoint and delete human genes - turns off the genes that tell the remaining cells to be female, encouraging the egg to behave like sperm.

That created an embryo containing only genomic DNA from the two male parents.

Those pups survived 48 hours after birth, but the researchers are planning to improve the process so that the bi-paternal mice live to adulthood.

"The tremendous amount of genetic modification needed in order to do what they (Chinese researchers) did, makes it implausible to use it in anything other than research in the way that they've done", he said.

"If the research is reproducible, and also works in humans, it still has to be shown to be safe,"Bob Williamson, the chair of the Board of Stem Cells Australia, said".

But the researchers hope to explore the techniques in other research animals in the future.

"We revealed some of the most important [DNA] regions that hinder the development of mice with same sex parents", said Wei Li, a molecular biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who co-led the new study, in a statement. "The defects in bimaternal mice [shown in previous research] can be eliminated and bipaternal reproduction barriers in mammals can also be crossed".

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