Posted by Agnivo Niyogi
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.
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.