This was the question I asked myself on my way back home after school one day. I had just finished my first lecture on genetic manipulation earlier that day, and I had learned how ‘Dolly the sheep’ had been created. The successfully cloned sheep,which eventually died before its time with symptoms affecting older sheeps.
But this got me thinking, can modifications be done to this process so that we can enable same sex couples to have children?
One of my closest friends had just come out to me at that time, and told me how much in love she was with her girl friend. I had always known that she wanted children, and in way it was this that inspired me to think about how this might work. I remember sketching out how this could work on my notebook on the train.
So this is my idea:
What makes us a girl or boy? We all have 22 autosomal chromosome pairs and 1 sex chromosome pair.
If we end up with XX sex chromosomes, we are female, and XY we end up as males. How do we end up with these pairs? Basically in the egg of your mother, she carries half the set of chromosomes. Since her sex chromosomes are both XX, in the half set of chromosomes that she carries, all the sex chromosome would be a X. In turn, males since they are made up of XY, 50% of their set would carry X and the other 50% would carry Y in their sperms. When a sperm meets an egg, fusion of the two sets occur and a cell with both sets are formed. This single cell then multiples and in 9 months we pop out of our mother.
Is this genetic manipulation possible?
What I envision is the following scenario for female couples:
- Both mothers donate their eggs
- One of the mother’s genetic material is removed from her egg
- This genetic material is inserted into the egg of the other mother, probably using electric shock to help the uptake of genetic material
- If this egg successfully forms an embryo, it can then be inserted into the uterus of one of the mothers or another surrogate to carry the child to term
- A baby girl is born!
The technique would be an adaptation of the cloning methodology
Theoretically, there would be more steps involved for 2 men who would want to have biological children because none of the partners will be able to have a cell or equipment to carry a baby to term.
- Both men will have to donate their sperm.
- Then each sperm will have to be studied to determine the sex chromosome, mainly because if you happen to select both Y-chromosome sperms genetic material, it wouldn’t be viable
- Eggs would have to be procured and the genetic material from within the egg will have to be removed
- Genetic material from Male 1 will be removed and inserted into donor egg. Then similar to IVF treatment, the sperms from Donor 2, can surround the egg in petri dish until fertilisation successfully occurs.
- Once the division starts, the parents can decide if the egg donor will be the surrogate or if they choose they can have a separate surrogate from the donor.
- After nine months, a baby girl or boy is born!
Of course, these are just theories, but I do wonder what is the limit to genetic manipulation? For instance, can a Y-chromosome containing genetic material survive in an egg cell? Or would it get destroyed? Does this mean if two men wanted a son, they would have to ensure that only the X-chromosome genetic material sperm is selected to be inserted into the egg? What are the social implications for this? Would other parents follow suit in designing their own babies? Would this create a gender imbalance in our society? To extent can we manipulate genetic materials and switch around their environments before they get damaged or worse increases chances of mutations?
And if such techniques were to exist in the future, would it be ethical to use them?