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Of Mice and Men

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Here at Pop Culture Laboratory, an expansive space between the women’s restroom and the color copier at Parenting headquarters, we are constantly looking for the next big thing in, well, pop culture. Boy did we find it. Strangely enough, this story is about something small and covered in fur. And no, I’m not talking about Nicole Ritchie’s last trip to Vail. I’m talking about mice.

This past December, the journal Biology of Reproduction published a study detailing an incredible achievement: scientists had created baby mice using the DNA from two fathers. When asked recently about the experiment, the study’s author, Richard Behringer, Ph.D., said, “It was a weird project, but we wanted to see if it could be done.” (I said the same thing in college after making a Jell-O sofa.)

The implications are huge. This discovery could mean that someday, same sex couples will have sons and daughters with their own genetic makeup. And what if a woman has a genetic disorder? There’s the potential that DNA from her partner and her brother could produce a healthy baby.

But what would happen if we took mom DNA out of the picture, and created a master race with dad DNA?

Think of all the benefits! No child would be left without a piggyback ride. All that baby gear? Moved, hauled and transported with ease. Crib assembly? No problem. Stress? We’ve got less of it. In fact, women are twice as likely to feel that their stress levels are out of control, according to a recent 2,000-person survey conducted by the Stroke Foundation in the U.K.

But then again, without mom, the kids miss out on a lot, mostly because men don’t improve biologically or physiologically by having a child. A woman actually becomes Supermom (I’ve seen this phenomenon firsthand). A pregnant woman’s hormones contribute to a heightened sense of smell, biology’s way of helping her detect foods or toxins that could harm baby. In the book The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and mother of two Katherine Ellison writes that when a mother hears her baby cry, it activates the same parts of the brain that gets titillated when we eat good food or take painkillers. Babies touch the pleasure zone in mom’s brain, thereby reinforcing the mom-baby connection. In these arenas, Dad will never catch up. He’s Clark Kent searching for a phone booth in an age of BlackBerries.

A few weekends ago I went to a pet store with my boys. There in the back, past the parrots and guinea pigs and Burmese pythons, were the mice: a big furry scrum, each one nestling into the other. The life of a mouse dad is no picnic. Each litter can have upwards of a dozen babies, and the mom can get pregnant again one day after giving birth. At this rate, a mouse dad can have more than one hundred offspring every year. Maybe there’s not a parenting lesson to learn from mice. (Honestly, who can afford a 120-bedroom, 120 ½-bath home?) Maybe it’s best to leave the weird projects to the college kids.