Update: I’m changing the title from “Is “significant intervention by scientists” a good idea?” and adding this paragraph to make sure people understand the relevance of this story about genomic imprinting to the gay marriage debate. Too many people are ignorant about the legal meaning of marriage, which isn’t just about a couple’s commitment or love for each other as life-long exclusive partners, but about approving and allowing the couple to conceive offspring together. Our resident progressive Simple J. Malarkey thinks that, because gay people exist, we have to give same-sex couples the same approval and allow them to conceive offspring together, but that’s not true at all: There is no right to conceive offspring with someone of the same sex, or to create people from genetically modified gametes or any other method except through marital sexual intercourse. It is incredibly bad to equate a man and a woman’s right to procreate to a same-sex couple’s. Civil Unions defined as “marriage minus conception rights” would be easier to pass and not destroy marriage and not cause so much strife and anger around the world. Anyone that still pushes for same-sex marriage in spite of this is incredibly radical and callous and indirectly responsible for that Ambassador’s death and for all the anti-American violence and extremism.
Lots of news last week about the discovery that some snakes previously thought to only reproduce sexually are able to reproduce through parthenogenesis as well. This has prompted the usual flurry of jokes about the end of sex, but underlying all the articles is a serious question about what it means for us. As I have been saying for years, humans, like most animals, require both sexes to create a viable embryo due to something called “genomic imprinting” that makes sperm and eggs different and complementary. And figuring out imprinting is not easy and not safe, as animal experiments have proven. But still articles like this one always seem to imply that it will happen someday, that it’s just a matter of figuring it out, and I think that is depressing and disturbing people.
How prevalent, then, is virgin birth? And could it possibly extend to humans?
“In terms of other species, it is evident now that reptiles are a group that appear predisposed to parthenogenesis, whether facultative, as we address here, or obligate, where the primary reproductive mode is parthenogenesis and few or no males are known within the species,” Booth said.
Obligate parthenogenesis may have arisen from ancestral interbreeding between species, though scientists aren’t sure why some animals seem to randomly give birth without help from the male (the facultative type).
“What is common to those that reproduce facultatively is the lack of genomic imprinting – by that, I mean a process in which a specific set of genes are provided by the mother, and a second set from the father,” Booth said. “These genes of different parental origin must interact in a process called genomic imprinting in order for the development of an embryo. This, as far as we are aware, occurs in all mammals with the exception of the monotremes – platypus and echidnas – and therefore explains why we cannot have facultative parthenogenesis in mammalian species without significant intervention by scientists.”
We should rule out creating human beings by any means other than sexual reproduction by a man and a woman, the same way everyone else has always been created and everyone has a right to attempt to do, if they find someone eligible to marry and who consents to do it with them. Stories like this should not provoke those angst-ridden existential questions about what it means for humans and the future of men. We should be able to tell children that they will not be having their children through parthenogenesis, or with genetically engineered DNA, but only the same way as they were created, by joining with someone of the other sex.