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Saturday 10 October 2009

Proclamations of the Red Queen

7th September 2009

Parthenogenesis: Nature, Embryology and A Female-Only Future

Posted by: Craig Young

Parthenogenesis (single-sex reproduction) has long been a lesbian community fantasy. How might comparative zoology assist them to realise this goal?baby.jpg

Parthenogenic animals occur within a modest range of species. However, arthropod invertebrates (insects, spiders, scorpions et al) have the greatest range of such creatures. Aphids, parasitic wasps, some bee species, European formicine and Central/South American electric ants all display such reproductive attributes, as do scorpions and crustaceans like water fleas and Louisiana’s Red Swamp Crayfish. Parthenogenesis has also been observed in some species of hammerhead and blacktip sharks. Parthenogenic reptiles include Komodo dragons, whiptail lizards, geckos and some rock lizards. Although no mammalian species appear naturally capable of asexual reproduction, it has been artificially induced in laboratory mice (2004).

In lesbian utopian fiction, parthenogenesis is usually identified with thelytoky, in which the ova of a single woman are stimulated to form a female embryo and female-only offspring, due to the sole presence of X chromosomes within ova. This may mean that the population that might result from such processes has a lack of genetic diversity- which Joanna Russ (The Female Man, 1976) got around through postulating the development of ova fusion technology, thus producing a situation where genetic diversity was preserved. Unfortunately, we are still some decades or centuries away from the perfection of such advanced genetic technologies, given that humanity has only just mapped the human genome. At present, sperm appear to contain amino acids which are essential to stable later embryonic and fetal development. In some arthropod species, wolbachia bacteria seem to stimulate the production of thelytokic parthenogenesis within amenable females. 

Moving away from ‘pure’ thelytoky, though, in other species, male gametes/sperm do activate fertilised eggs, but they then express female genetic attributes only. To further complicate matters, not all sex chromosome divisions conform to the mammalian XX-female/XY-male dichotomy (leaving aside anomalous and intersexed individuals). Some bird species have an alternate dichotomy where males have ZZ sex chromosomes and females have ZW sex chromosomes, so parthenogenesis might create female and male offspring. Still, this is within reptile and bird species, not mammals.

In any case, we are still some distance away from induced human parthenogenesis and the possibility of single-sex reproduction. It is true that the infamous South Korean failed human cloning scientist Hwang Woo-Suk   produced what appeared to be parthenogenic human zygotes in  2004. However, it is uncertain whether or not these zygotes might have contained teratogenic anomalies that might only express themselves in later embryonic and fetal development, if implanted into a uterus and (possibly) brought to term.

Ectogenesis (extra-uterine reproduction) might avoid that problem, but would run into opposition from conservative Christians and anti-reprotech feminists, as indeed would parthenogenesis itself, if perfected. Alas, it’ll still be some time before a parthenogenic “future is female.

Recommended Reading:

Robert M Dawley and James P. Bogart (1989). Evolution and Ecology of Unisexual Vertebrates. Albany, New York: New York State Museum.

H.Fangerau: (2005). “Can Artificial Parthenogenesis sidestep ethical pitfalls in human therapeutic cloning? A historical perspective”, Journal of Medical Ethics 31, 733-735

Douglas J.Futuyama & Monty Slatkin. (1983). Coevolution. Sunderland, Mass: Sinauer Associates

John Maynard Smith, John. (1978). The Evolution of Sex. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richard E. Michod & Bruce R. Levin (1988). The Evolution of Sex. Sunderland, Mass: Sinauer Associates.

Phillip C. Watts, Kevin R. Buley, Stephanie Sanderson, Wayne Boardman, Claudio Ciofi and Richard Gibson. (2006). “Parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons.” Nature 444, 1021-1022

I.Schlupp: (2005) “The evolutionary ecology of gynogenesis”. Annual Review of Ecology and Evolutionary Systems 36: 399-417.

Jean-Christophe Simon, Claude Rispe et al: (2002). “Ecology and evolution of sex in aphids” Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 17, 34-39.

Stephan C Stearns (1988)The Evolution of Sex and Its Consequences (Experientia Supplementum, Vol. 55). Boston: Birkhauser.

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