No, it’s not a new rock group.
I read about this in a news mag and it blew my mind – a female komodo dragon in a London zoo produced offspring without the benefit of sexual relations with a male komodo dragon. That’s right – “virgin birth” or in this case “virgin hatching”. The 7-year-old female, Flora, had never even been in contact with a male. DNA tests confirmed that she produced the babies spontaneously with her own cells. She had 5 hatchlings. This is a rare process that is called “parthenogenesis” (or asexual reproduction) in which one of the mother’s egg cells acts like a sperm cell and fertilizes another egg cell.
Chester Zoo curator Kevin Buley told the Associated Press: “Flora is oblivious to the excitement she has caused. But we are delighted to say she is now a mum and dad.”
There are several species of earthworms, plants, insects (bees, for example), and fish (starfish, e.g.) where parthenogenesis occurs naturally. My first humorous thought was that here was a way for a pregnant teen or straying wife to claim she did not have sex – the pregnancy just happened! However, although parthenogenesis happens in humans, it proceeds only to the point where an embryo is produced. The complexity of human genetics makes it impossible for a naturally parthenogenetic fetus to live to term. Asexual reproduction is also rare in komodo dragons.
Advances in biotechnology regarding this process may make it possible for lesbian couples to have children in the future.
Can you believe all the fun the religious right will have with this one? On the one hand they have a concrete argument for the possiblilty of the virgin birth of Christ. On the other hand, science has a window to manipulating human birth and perhaps one day allowing lesbian couples to have their own children. And what about men? Will it make natural copulation obsolete? Will women eschew marriage and paternal issues and have babies independent of men?
It’s a brave new world indeed.
komodo dragon photo from www.rth.org/sdzoo/pix.html
“Not tonight, I have a headache…”