Human civilisations are not an end in themselves but keep evolving. A key reason for this evolution is the process of reproduction. There have been numerous techniques that came into existence so as to enable reproduction of humans. Test tube baby, surrogacy are to name a few. However, the recent discovery is the major milestone in the history of reproductive studies. Scientists have discovered that it is possible to make a baby without female egg.
Dr Tony Perry and his team announced this week that they have successfully bred mice without using a normal egg cell. Instead, they used sperm to fertilise a kind of non-viable embryo called a parthenogenote, which multiplies more like a normal cell. Then they ‘tricked’ it into developing into an embryo using special chemicals, planted it into a surrogate, and a new mouse was born. It survived and has even gone on to have offspring of its own.
The results challenge two centuries of reproductive biology. Earlier it was believed that only a sperm and an egg cell could create a mammal baby. But Perry says that in theory, the technique could be used to fertilise other cells in the body, such as skin cells, as long as half the chromosomes were removed first. In a ‘speculative and fanciful’ world, this could allow two men to have a baby which shared both their genes.
Elsewhere, scientists have been speculating about another kind of ‘motherless baby’: one grown outside the womb. This process was named ‘ectogenesis’ in 1924 by JBS Haldane. He predicted that by 2074, only 30% of births would be natural.
But the transhumanist Zoltan Istvan believes that this will happen much sooner, closer to 20 or 30 years. Scientists have already grown goat and mice embryos in artificial wombs, he points out. The science of these is very complex. All that is needed is, ‘an amniotic fluid-filled aquarium with a bunch of feeding tubes and monitoring cables.’
Such path-breaking discovery has also potential to break some long holding societal cleavages. Women have been oppressed for centuries on issues related to reproduction. So women could get free of all these accusations and moreover, the results prove positive for gay couples. They could have the baby of their own with both the parent’s genes. However, the results are yet to prove positive with humans.