Same-sex reproduction

Will women one day father children?

A new film imagines lesbians conceiving with sperm derived from each other's stem cells – and the science may not be far-fetched

ctor Megan Fahlenbock, director Alison Reid (center) and actor Angela Vint pose for a photo on the set of "The Baby Formula."

A new film imagines lesbians conceiving with sperm derived from each other's stem cells – and the science may not be far-fetched



Sheryl Ubelacker

In the new Canadian film The Baby Formula, opening later this week, two lesbians become pregnant using sperm derived from each other's stem cells.

The premise of the mockumentary may be fictional, but with the speed at which stem cell research is evolving, could same-sex human reproduction one day become reality? And should it?

Scientists have already taken the first baby steps toward realizing this brave new, and some would say controversial, world of conception.

Stem cells are like the body's blueprint, giving rise to all the different cells that make up an organism, from the skin and organs to the brain, bone and blood. Harnessing them as factories to produce specialized cells to repair or regrow tissues is the great hope of regenerative medicine.

In 2006, Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University generated sperm from male embryonic stem cells that fertilized female mice and produced offspring. A year later, his team was able to derive primitive sperm from stem cells taken from the bone marrow of human men.

Since then, Dr. Nayernia's group has been working on creating sperm from women's bone marrow stem cells and is expected to report its findings within weeks.

“We are now publishing a paper describing the producing of human sperm in the laboratory,” he says. “It is male, but we have had some success with female.”

Dr. Nayernia says there are a number of reasons for pursuing the research – to produce lab-based sperm to help scientists better understand the genetics of these “germ” cells and a safe means of testing how they are affected by environmental toxins and drugs.

He says artificially derived sperm and eggs also could help researchers look for ways to protect the fertility of men and women undergoing cancer treatments.

As to the idea of a woman's stem cells giving rise to sperm that could be used to fertilize another woman's egg, “scientifically, in principle, it is possible,” says Dr. Nayernia, chair of the Stem Cell Biology Institute of Human Genetics at the university in Newcastle upon Tyne.

But Toronto stem cell scientist Andras Nagy isn't so sure.

There would be several biological hurdles to overcome, he says. First and foremost, women's DNA contains two X chromosomes, but no Y (male) chromosome.

“Without the Y chromosome, it's just simply not possible,” Dr. Nagy says. “The other issue here is that females have two X chromosomes and the presence of two X chromosomes in a cell again [blocks] the sperm formation.”

Germ cells must also be able to undergo meiosis – the process of cell division that leads to sperm and eggs having just one set of 23 chromosomes, rather than pairs adding to 46, as found in all other cells. It's not clear whether sperm coaxed from female stem cells could do that.

“So the bottom line is as far as the biology is concerned, that film is based on fiction,” Dr. Nagy says of The Baby Formula .

Leaving aside the notion of same-sex reproduction, there are some “legitimate scientific reasons” why researchers would want to create both human sperm and eggs from stem cells, says Tim Caulfield, a professor of health science and law at the University of Alberta.

For one, the technology would give scientists an unlimited supply of eggs and sperm for study, he says. At a practical level, it could allow infertile couples to produce offspring containing their own genetic material.

“Let's say a man or a woman could no longer produce sperm or eggs for whatever reason, they could use the technology to grow sperm and eggs and then they could have kids.”

Being able to produce numerous eggs and sperm in the lab would also make it easier for couples at risk of passing on genetic mutations, such as those that cause Tay-Sachs or Huntington's disease, to opt for in-vitro fertilization and to test embryos prior to implantation.

The ability to create eggs from stem cells may also allow a woman to conceive at a later age, when her natural supply has run out, he says.

But beyond the scientific feasibility, what of the ethics of bypassing the usual means of making babies?

“The biggest hurdle, I think, is how are you going to test this technology?” Prof. Caulfield says. “At some point, you're actually going to have to start creating embryos.”

Those embryos would have to be allowed to develop to a certain point to determine whether they are healthy and do not contain genetic abnormalities as a result of their mode of conception, he says.

“From a research ethics point of view, that's a major challenge.”

In Canada, at least, any discussion about spawning life using stem cell-generated sperm or eggs is a moot one. Current laws do not allow scientists to produce embryos by any means for the purpose of research.

Still, the mere idea of lesbian couples (or gay men using a surrogate mother) having a baby with their own genetic material is sure to horrify some people.

As the religious mother of one of the women in The Baby Formula says: “Who do you think you are, God?”

Yet Prof. Caulfield wonders if safety issues could some day be overcome, “is there anything inherently wrong with allowing a lesbian couple to give birth? I don't know that there is. …

“I think we have to move beyond the sort of yuck response,” he says. “When we start regulating and curtailing technologies and setting up barriers, I do think we need to do it on a principle basis.”

It wasn't that long ago that sperm donation and test-tube babies were thought disgusting by some, he says. Now they're accepted practice.

“I think the yuck response is a good reason for caution and a good reason for reflection, but it's not a justification for prohibition. …

“We do evolve. There is social accommodation that occurs and I think with a lot of these new technologies, that's also going to be the case.”

Dr. Nagy, who saw The Baby Formula in a prescreening and “liked it very much,” says the film contains an important social message, even if the premise is fictional.

Stem cell research will push the boundaries of what is biologically possible and society will be faced with a host of ethical challenges that this revolution in science will engender, he says.

“It's a very, very rapidly changing world and we really have to be aware of that,” Dr. Nagy says.



Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre

My god, Madam Justice's Feldman and Robertson will be just tickled baby pink with this news, men viewed their lenses are dollars for support and unsuitable to be parents.

The fact is babies need father's dna, just imagine what kind of human being would be produced that did not have an actual father.

Just imagine if it was a god auwful, terrible event and produced a "boy", you know, that predisposed domestic abuser / unsuitable parent aka that 50% part of the human race born with testicles.

Just imagine what a creature would be if it was born with testicles as a result of female generated "cperm".

Right. that defies their believes, you see, their next step would be to simply use sex selection and only have females born, and simply turn some of their cells into malecperm.

Wow, and after a few more generations, they would have their own utopia of an entire female race without any more "test-icles" around.

One problem, there are still enough ladies around who like real pen-usis and want a real man, not some freak created by two females.

Let's give salute to all those wonderful se/xy ladies who like real men with real balls and who want to pro-create with real babies born with real "test-icles".

All we need now is a Government of Canada official baby birth bonus and a Legal Presumption of Equal parenting to start a real baby birthing boom that will end the current negative birth rate.


.Wow, wait till this news arrives at Ontario Gesh-Tapo headquarters aka the Ontario Family Responsibility Office, which is tantamount to the headquarters of the Ontario Government's Male Gender Apart-heid HQ.

Now, one wo-man, provides "a sample" that is turned into DNA, lets assume that the woman, is not actually producing her own perm but gets "another woman" to "provide what can be called "the sampple.
Excuse the deliberate spllign errorrs, thats to defeet the Globe ESenssor that really can't haandle spellen errors. "thank Gott."

So, after our hero, thats HERo, provides HeR sample, it gets converted into male sperm and low and behold it actually results in a child. Now won't speculate on what gender it may be, he she or "it", but, what does the FRO care about gender, all they need is an allegation, a claim and its turned into a court order and that poor woman who "donated" her "sample" that got turned into C. P. E. R. M, suddenly gets hit with an order for support as "the father".

But she says, "I never had a settled intention to act as the father", I was just a woman donating a sample".. Absent a change in policy, of Ontario's GES-.sTapo, she will be paying support as the "biological father".

That of course assumes that females would be treated the same as males for the purposes of support and well all know that does not conform with the Ontario Government's Male S-haria law or a court system established to disenfranchise children who have that horrible word called "Fathers".

Canada needs to eradicate those judges who spend their entire careers destroying men on the mad ravings of a "wo-man" gone stark raving mad.