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Male rats give birth – after scientists conjoin them with females


Researchers say they’ve made male rats give birth. But animal rights activists called the study, which sewed rats together, ‘vile’. (Credits: AFP via Getty Images)

Male rats gave birth to healthy offspring after being sewn to females in a controversial scientific experiment.

Researchers think this is the first time male mammals have successfully become pregnant.

Scientists behind the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, say it could have ‘a profound impact on reproductive biology.’

But animal rights activists have criticised the study as ‘Frankenscience.’

How did the study work?

Researchers surgically conjoined female and castrated male rats to create 46 ‘parabiotic pairs’ which share blood.

The scientists used a method called ‘parabiosis’ in their experiment (Credit: Naval Medical University)

After eight weeks, the researchers transplanted wombs into the male rats.

After the males had recovered, the scientists implanted 842 early-stage embryos in the wombs of both the male and female rats: 562 into females and 280 into males

Just over two weeks later, they performed caesarean section to remove the rat foetuses. Those that had survived were then fostered by surrogate mothers.

The rats were sewn together so that they could share blood. (Credit: Naval Medical University)

Ten healthy rat pups were delivered to male parents and survived into adulthood; a success rate of just 3.68%.

The ten pups were all born to males who were exposed to blood from pregnant females. Healthy embryos only developed in 30% of the female parabiotic rats.

Several of the embryos that died after being implanted in male rats had developed abnormally.

Some of the foetuses extracted by researchers are pictured. (Credit: Naval Medical University)

The scientists said their research builds on previous studies that unsuccessfully implanted embryos in males without uteruses.

They said their results may have a ‘profound impact’ on reproductive research, but did not go into further detail.

Animal ethics

The researchers, who are based at the Naval Medical University in Shanghai, China, said they followed ‘local ethics guidelines’ to reduce animal suffering during the experiment.

This meant minimising the number of rats involved in the study and performing all surgical procedures under anaesthetic.

The scientists said no rats ‘exhibited signs of pain’ during the study, which used surgical methods seen in previous rat studies.

Although it may seem shocking, parabiosis is a relatively common scientific practise.

But, it is frequently criticised by animal rights groups who consider it cruel.

A spokesperson for animal rights group PETA called the research ‘vile.’

PETA’s senior science policy advisor Emily McIvor said: ‘Surgically joining two sensitive rats – who endured mutilation and weeks of prolonged suffering – is unethical and in the realm of Frankenscience.

‘Rats have nervous systems just like those of humans…they feel pain, fear, loneliness, and joy, just as humans do.’

The research was uploaded to preprint server bioaRxiv on Wednesday.


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