November 28, 2021

Male mice give birth in bizarre Chinese experiment

A surgical solution to transwomen gestating children is unlikely to catch on

We missed this one during the BioEdge editor’s break. Scientists in China have conducted a bizarre experiment which allowed male rats to give birth – immediately raising a host of ethical challenges.

Researchers at the Naval Medical University in Shanghai created a heterosexual parabiotic pair by surgically joining a castrated male rat to a female one. After eight weeks, they transplanted a uterus into the male. Then they transplanted blastocyst-stage embryos into the both the male uterus and the female uterus. Finally, on embryonic day 21.5, they performed a Caesarean section.

Out of 842 embryos introduced into 46 pairs, one-third of those in the female rats and one-tenth of those in the male rats developed into viable foetuses. Ten pups gestated in the male rats survived to adulthood — just 4% of the 280 embryos implanted in the male rats.

Afterwards the adult rats were separated. All the males survived for another three months, until they were euthanized.

This solution to transwomen gestating children is unlikely to catch on, but no doubt some people will be heartened by the limited success of the experiment.

However, the researchers themselves have dismissed this possibility. The importance of the blood supply from the female and the low rate of births from the male suggest that “male pregnancy in humans is not feasible at this stage”, Rongjia Zhang wrote on PubPeer, adding: “If our result is correct, this is almost a death sentence for human male pregnancy.” He said that “we only conducted the experiments for the curiosity”.

Even Chinese scientists found the experiment distasteful, unethical, and embarrassing. “The experiment has no social value and just wasted the money taken from taxpayers,” Qiu Renzong, a bioethicist at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, told Nature.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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