A scientific experiment makes mice produce rat sperm

Image for article titled A scientific experiment makes mice produce rat sperm

Photo: George Shuklin (Wikimedia Commons)

Sounds the main theme from Jurassic Park: CScientists in Switzerland appear to have achieved a remarkable feat, creating sterile, apparently healthy mice that can produce the sperm cells of a rat. These rodent chimeras failed to produce viable rat pups, but the work could lead to a new method of preserving species on the brink of extinction, the team says.

Scientists routinely modify the genetics of animals in laboratories to conduct various experiments, even to the point of breeding mice with cells or organs that closely resemble those of other animals, including humans. One of the relatively new methods designed to accomplish this is known as blastocyst complementation.

In the past, other researchers used this technique to splice mouse embryos with pluripotent stem cells taken from another animal, cells that have the potential to become any other type of cell. However, the embryos were first modified in a way that would prevent the mice from developing specific organs. Once introduced into mouse embryos, the borrowed stem cells acted as a kind of genetic putty, filling in what would have been missing during the development process. This method has even been used to create mice with some distinctly rat-like organs.

Now in a new studio published Thursday in Stem Cell Reports, biologists from the ETH Zurich university have gone a step further. Using the same technique, they first engineered male mouse embryos that were intended to be sterile and added rat stem cells. Y they managed to create mouse-rat hybrids, or chimeras. The mice were unable to produce functional mouse sperm, but they did produce rat-like sperm. Most of the chimeras also looked and behaved like normal mice, with no apparent risk of additional health problems.

Image for article titled A scientific experiment makes mice produce rat sperm

Image: Joel Zvick/ETH Zurich

“We were surprised by the relative simplicity with which we could mix the two species to produce viable mouse-rat chimeras. These animals generally appeared healthy and developed normally., although they carried mouse and rat cells in a chimeric animal,” study author Ori Bar-Nur, a stem cell biologist at ETH Zurich, said in a statement. “The second surprise was that indeed all the sperm within the chimeras were of rat origin. As such, the mouse host environment, which was sterile due to a genetic mutation, could still support the efficient production of sperm from a different animal species.”

The team’s findings have several important implications. On the one hand, turning pluripotent stem cells into functional sperm and egg cells has proven difficult, so this research may offer some lessons to learn from. It is also possible that this method could one day speed up the production of genetically modified rats, as these sterile mice could theoretically offer a more reliable way. to create rat sperm and eggs designed. But the most tantalizing possibility is that we could create hybrids capable of reproduce a new generation of another closely related species that has become extinct.

That latest application of this technology could raise some thorny ethical questions, though it’s not likely to be a feasible achievement anytime soon. It is possible that the sperm from the chimeras resembled rat sperm, but they could not move on their own as usual. And while scientists were able to successfully fertilize rat eggs with the sperm of chimerasthe resulting embryos did not develop normally and did not give rise to viable offspring.

Nowthe researchers plan to improve their technique so that one day can breed rats from these chimeras. They also point out that they will have to show that it is possible to create female rodent chimeras with viable eggs before this technique can really be used to try to preserve species. Others Scientists hope that blastocyst supplementation may have other important uses in the future, such as creating of pigs with humanized organs fit for transplant.

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