Is this a squeak into our future?
We all remember the birds and the bees talk.
When a man and a woman love each other very much . . . well, skipping over the details, what they do next is where babies come from. The only real exception is in cases of artificial insemination, which skip the fun stuff, but still require genetic material from a mother and a father.
However, it might not be the only exception for long. Researchers are rewriting the rules of reproduction, in ways that could complicate the “birds and the bees” version forever.
A genetic mousterpiece
Last week, the BBC reported that scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing had successfully engineered healthy pups from two female mice.
They pulled off this modern miracle by taking an egg from one mother and a haploid embryonic stem cell from the other, then deleting the genetic instructions inside that rendered them incompatible.
Although using material from male mice was attempted, the process was much more complicated, and the pups died within days.
The research is in its early stages, but it’s difficult not to wonder what such a revolutionary process could mean for our own species in the far future.
Could we one day have children with two mothers and no father?
The end of men?
The idea of a world in which men have become reproductively redundant has been pondered before.
In the feminist utopian novel Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, three male explorers discover a peaceful, isolated society that consists only of women, who procreate via asexual reproduction.
Joanna Russ’s science fiction novel The Female Man (1975) features another egalitarian, all-female utopia, Whileaway, in which women reproduce by merging ova.
It’s doubtful we’ll see such dramatic changes in our own world. We’ve evolved in a manner such that most members of our species favor romantic and sexual relationships with the opposite sex, and technological innovations are unlikely to change our biological imperatives in the foreseeable future.
The repercussions could nonetheless be extraordinary.
For example, if the technique could be replicated in humans, it would allow same-sex couples to have children genetically related to both parents. It could also be a boon for couples experiencing fertility problems.
However, hopeful readers shouldn’t hold their breath quite yet. The technology is a long way from use in humans, and it’s not clear how researchers could surmount the ethical issues in getting it there.
But it offers a tantalizing glimpse of a possible future in which human reproduction is much more varied and complicated than ever before.
Image sources: Chinese Academy of Sciences