Rats could foster life for human births

Scientists have made an astonishing breakthrough which raises the real possibility of animals one day fathering humans.

Researchers in the United States have successfully transplanted immature cells with the potential of creating sperm from the testes of rats into mice. The result was that the mice went on to produce fully formed rat sperm.

The achievement has enormous implications. Rats and mice are distinctly different species, having diverged on the evolutionary path 11 million years ago.

What the scientists have demonstrated is that it is possible for one species to develop the sperm of another. If it were possible to extend the principle to humans, it could provide an extraordinary alternative to sperm banking - animals "fathering" human sperm.

The technique also opens the door to a completely new method of immortalising individuals, allowing a parent's personal characteristics to be conserved for many years, perhaps indefinitely.

The breakthrough was announced in the science journal Nature last night and will be featured tomorrow night on BBC1's Tomorrow's World programme.

Last night a spokeswoman for the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, the body which regulates fertility research, admitted that there was nothing in British law expressly forbidding the production of human sperm in animals if this should ever be feasible.

The test-tube baby pioneer Dr Ralph Brinster led the research at Pennsylvania University, Philadelphia, in the United States. He and his team took sperm stem cells - immature cells which are the precursors of sperm - from the testes of rats and transplanted them into the testes of 10 mice.

The process of rat sperm production was observed taking place in all the mice. A closer look at eight of the mice showed that those which had harboured the transplants for more than 110 days contained sperm with a shape characteristic of rats.

Speaking on Tomorrow's World, Dr Brinster says: "The rat-to-mouse suggests that you can go across species barriers - which species it's difficult to say. In terms of going from human to mouse it may be much more difficult than going from human to pig, and only doing the experiment will tell you. It's very unlikely I think that one could not freeze the sperm stem cells of all mammalian species. I would be surprised if the human stem cell could not be frozen and perhaps kept for many years, perhaps indefinitely."

In theory, the use of stem cells could mark a revolution in fertility treatment. The technique also raises other possibilities such as infertile fathers using their sons' stem cells to father their own grandchildren, or babies being born hundreds of years after their fathers' death.

Dr Brinster explained that freezing stem cells is totally different from freezing sperm. "When you freeze a stem cell and you can show it will grow in another animal, you have saved that individual, you have immortalised that individual. It's a totally new concept in biology," he said.

There are also implications for genetic engineering. If it became possible to produce laboratory cultures of stem cells, modification of their genetic structure should be feasible.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine