Very soon, men in same-sex relationships could have a child genetically linked to both fathers, thanks to new technology. The technology uses skin cells from one person to alter the genetics of a donated egg, researchers report in the journal Science Advances.

That egg can then be fertilized by a sperm to create a viable embryo that contains the combined genetic data of the skin donor and sperm donor.

The innovative technology will not only help same-sex couples have a child of their own, but also women who are unable to create viable eggs due to advanced age, ill health or other reasons.

“The goal is to produce eggs for patients who don’t have their own eggs,” said senior author Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Oregon Health & Science University Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy.

The scientists add that this is the same technique that researchers in Scotland used to clone a sheep named Dolly in 1996.

In that case, researchers created a clone of one parent, while the OHSU researchers focused on creating embryos with genetics drawn from both parents.

The OHSU team followed a three-step process to do this in mouse experiments.

They first stripped a mouse egg of its nucleus, then transplanted the nucleus of a mouse skin cell into the mouse egg.

Next, they prompted the implanted skin cell nucleus to discard half its chromosomes, in a process similar to that which occurs in cells dividing to produce mature sperm or egg cells.

Finally, the researchers fertilize the new egg with sperm using in vitro fertilization, resulting in a healthy embryo with two sets of chromosomes equally donated by two parents.

This process could prove a simpler option to a competing technique that other labs around the world are testing, in which skin cells are fully reprogrammed to become either egg or sperm cells.

“We’re skipping that whole step of cell reprogramming. The advantage of our technique is that it avoids the long culture time it takes to reprogram the cell. Over several months, a lot of deleterious genetic and epigenetic changes can happen. This gives us a lot of insight. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to understand how these chromosomes pair and how they faithfully divide to actually reproduce what happens in nature”, researcher Dr. Paula Amato, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine, said in a school news release.

However, researchers warn that it will be years before this technique could be available for humans.

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