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Babies for Gays

DISCLAIMER : This article was originally written for and published in Gaylaxy magazine.

One argument that activists of LGBT rights always face while propaganding their views  among people is the criticism that the concept of homosexuality is against the values of Indian family concept and homosexuals cannot procreate. Even if they do adopt or go for surrogate parenthood, the offspring is not of the same “blood”. While social scientists will answer the query about the erosion of family ties with increasing number of openly out gays, i as a biology student can just try to draw the attention of people towards new researches which have successfully attempted to make genetically identical biological offsprings of gay men.

Stem cells are not unheard of. Although you may not be acquainted with the nity gritties of the concept, readers i guess are not completely in the dark about the term. But for those do not, i wish to summarise what stem cells are in brief before moving to the main article.

Stem cells are the cells in our body characterised by the property of self renewal and differentiation. All other cells can be obtained from a single stem cell so they are called Totipotent. Once a cell lineage is formed from a stem cell, the cells cannot revert back to any other form( what i mean to say is a liver cell line will never function as a heart cell line, although evidences of dedifferentiation have been shown in recent works).

The hematopoietic stem cells (stem cells that give rise to blood cells) generally occur in the bone marrow, and these have been used extensively in the stem cell research, to get an insight into what really is the mechanism of differentiation of these cells.

You can also read about stem cells in my earlier post here.

Coming back to the article, it has always been said sexual reproduction in homosexual partners is unheard of. However with latest scientific breakthroughs it is no more an impossible feat.

According to the biological definition, sexual reproduction stands for the union of the male pronucleus and the female pronucleus. To be more specific, it is the union of the genetic material carried by the gametes of the two partners. The apomixes must be followed by growth of the embryo into a full fledged organism. This leads to the creation of an offspring genetically similar to both the parents.

Courtesy Live Journal

The problem of hindrance to apomixes in same sex couples can be solved with the stem cell technology. For this a new technology was put to use. That is called dedifferentiation. Differentiated somatic cells of the body can be made to reverse the process of differentiation and become a pluripotent stem cell and give rise to host of other cells. The stem cells thus produced are called induced stem cells. Induced stem cells are produced using several transcription factors and other chemical agents from somatic cells like fibroblast cells of the skin. These cells then can be made to differentiate into the germ cell. Gametes produced by respective germ cells can then be fused and embryo shall be born. This can be implanted in a surrogate mother to give birth to a biological offspring with characters from both the parents.

Let us discuss this in an example. Say I and Deepak are partners. We want a baby. Say i want to be the father and Deepak wants to play the biological “mother”. In that case, fibroblast cells from Deepak shall be extracted and made to undergo dedifferentiation in to an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC). This iPSC can then be induced to form egg cells or ovum. Since a father’s job is to donate a sperm, i do not have to get donate any fibroblast cells but stay contended with donating sperms. Fertilisation of egg and sperm take place following normal rules of Nature. The embryo can be implanted into a surrogate mother for further development.

However a problem arises since genetic makeup of men is XY. So there is a probability that YY zygote may form following fertilisation. Hence these embryos will be lethal and won’t survive.

In case of lesbian couples, one partner donates the fibroblast for synthesis of sperms and the other donates the egg (which is her own normal product) for fertilisation.

This procedure sounds interesting and also incorporates great deal of knowledge of the life sciences and the latest advances made in biotechnology research. However the whole procedure comes with its share of expenses and might not lead to desired results always. But that’s the beauty of research in sciences.

People will always cry horse about ethical issues, about undoing God’s way of procreation, disturbing the order of Nature. But if we stagnate scientific experiments, progress of civilization will stall and God will never forgive us for that.

I wish this technology becomes a reality soon and homosexuals in India can choose to produce offsprings who are biologically their part.

Homosexuality: Is it All in the genes?

Having left the string loose in the last issue, i was thinking where to start? I got the answer in a conversation with a fellow community member in one of the chat sites where he asked “isn’t homosexuality a genetic disorder like down’s syndrome?” This kind of propaganda is often carried out by homophobics and has crept into the psyche of many members of our brethren. So it is essential that i put forward a few evidences to the contrary to make people believe that homosexuality is not a disorder. It is just a mental condition.  Originally thought by the American Psychological Association to be a mental disorder, research into its causes, origins, and development have consequently led to its removal by the APA from its list of diagnoses and disorders.



Psychologists, such as Freud, studied homosexuals extensively in hopes of coming up with an explanation for their “abnormal” behavior. All of the explanations that these people created linked homosexuality to experiences that homosexuals have while growing up. Generally speaking, people in the world of psychology believed that homosexuality could be explained by a person’s environment. However, in the past two decades, the subject of homosexuality has been creeping into the world of biology. Studies have been done recently that attempt to look at homosexuality in a scientific light in hopes of coming up with a genetic explanation for sexual preference. Although i dare say that it has not yet been proved that a “homosexual gene” exists.

One of the pioneering works done in this field of research was carried out in the year 1993.The main aim of the research was to look into the families where there was an abnormally high occurrence of homosexuality. The pedigree analyses would give an insight into the mode of heredity of the homosexual trait and the genetic factors (if any) that affect it. It seemed that the majority of homosexual occurrences were on the maternal side of the tree. From this information, researchers concluded that if in fact there was a “homosexual gene”, it appeared to be passed down from mother to son. This study meant that the trait of homosexuality was passed down from mothers to son and heterosexual women were carriers of this gene. While this study did not come up with any hard core facts about the genetics of homosexuality, it showed that a connection very well could exist. This study paved the way for future studies. And since the mother was carrier of the homosexual trait, the studies were restricted to the X chromosome.

One of the most influential studies on the genetics of homosexuality was done by Dean Hamer and his co-workers at the National Cancer Institute in Washington DC (1993). Hamer’s research involved studying thirty-two pairs of brothers who were either “exclusively or mostly” homosexual. None of the sets of brothers were related. Of the thirty-two pairs, Hamer and his colleagues found that two-thirds of them (twenty-two of the sets of brothers) shared the same type of genetic material. This strongly supports the hypothesis that there is an existing gene that influences homosexuality. Hamer then looked closely at the DNA of these gay brothers to try and find the region of the X chromosome (since the earlier research suggested that the gene was passed down maternally) that most of the homosexual brothers shared. He discovered that homosexual brothers have a much higher likelihood of inheriting the same genetic sequence on the region of the X chromosome identified by Xq28, than heterosexual brothers of the same gay men. Although it should be born in mind that it is just a region of a chromosome not a gene. And despite many attempts, no such gene has yet been identified.  Hamer’s study also acknowledges the fact that while it does suggest that there is a gene that influences homosexuality, it has not yet been determined how greatly the gene influences whether or not a person will be homosexual. In addition, Hamer attempted to locate a similar gene in female homosexuals, but was unsuccessful. Similar studies on twins have yielded positive results and indicate presence of a homosexual gene,which needs to be identified and characterised.

In “A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation,” the Northwestern University psychologist Michael Bailey and Boston University’s Richard Pillard compared fifty-six “monozygotic” twins (identical twins, from the same zygote, or fertilized egg), fifty-four “dizygotic” (fraternal) twins, and fifty-seven genetically unrelated adopted brothers (Identical twins are important in sexual-orientation research because, of course, they have identical genomes, including the sex-chromosome pair. If homosexuality is largely genetic in origin, then the more closely related that people are, the greater should be the concordance of their sexual orientation).

That is, in fact, what the study found. Bailey and Pillard reported a gay-gay concordance rate of 11 percent for the adoptive brothers, 22 percent for the dizygotic twins, and 52 percent for the monozygotic twins. The findings suggest that homosexuality is highly attributable to genetics—by some measures up to 70 percent attributable, according to Pillard.

If a large contribution to homosexuality comes from genes; where does the rest of it come from? The range of environmental and biological inputs a developing child receives is both enormous and enormously complex. “Whatever the other variables are,” Pillard says, “they must be present early in life. I think this because the genderatypical behavior that so strongly prefigures an adult homosexual orientation can be observed early in development.” And he goes on: “There certainly could be different paths to the same outcome. With individual cases, there are doubtless some that are mostly or all genes, and others that might be all environment. Our analysis [of twins] doesn’t say anything about the individual.”

This was just one aspect of the genetic analysis. Human molecular genetics does help us understand ourselves better. To add to our knowledge, we should also open our minds to the bigger universe around us.

This article was first published in Gaylaxy. You can read Gaylaxy online at

http://www.gaylaxymag.com

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