An Indian-origin research geneticist, who has written a celebration of all the eccentric creatures like the whiptail lizard capable of reproducing by themselves without sexual contact, has claimed that sexless reproduction is the way of the future for humans too.
Merely a generation ago, test-tube babies were the stuff of science fiction but now they have been accepted as a reality. In the same way, Aarathi Prasad from Imperial College London suggests that humans could well be looking at a future in which babies could be born without any sperm donors, let alone contact between the sexes.
Her book Like A Virgin explores a fundamentally serious theme we human beings are in control of our own destiny and there is nothing sacred or special about life itself.
This is so because we live in a world where science means we can manipulate everything — even the process of reproduction.
Indeed, the central tenet of her story is that virgin births are now almost within the grasp of science.
An artificial womb — a plastic container specially designed to hold fluids and bacteria found in natural wombs, has already been pioneered in Australia.
According to Prasad, it will one day be technically possible for a man to develop a child in one of these ‘wombs’ without the co-operation of any female partner.
Prasad points out that science has already developed artificial sperm. And that such sperm has produced offspring. How far behind can be the synthetic egg?
Her book also comes up with all kinds of freak case histories which appear to suggest that a virgin birth might not be beyond the bounds of science as new techniques develop.
She tells of cases where growths in the ovaries simulate the properties of a foetus. We read of weird ovarian teratomas (tumours which grow from unfertilised egg cells) which can develop humanoid features such as teeth and hair.
One such malformation discovered inside a young Japanese virgin in 2003 had a doll-like body with an eye which had lashes.
The idea is that with more understanding of the processes behind these bizarre cases, we could learn how to reproduce without the aid of any partner.
However, she has warned that such research may well be necessary. Infertility is on the rise in the world, she claims — which means that the normal means of reproducing the human race could actually be under threat in the very long term.
She also warned that the Y chromosome — the strand of DNA which helps shape the male of any species — is ‘hurtling down the evolutionary road towards extinction’.
Research has shown that the genetic information contained on it has been disintegrating over time.
“Why can’t a man be a mother?” the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.
“Why do we care so much about what it means to be a mother rather than to be a parent?
“By all reasonable estimates, in the near future we will conquer the tyranny of the womb. The question remains if we can also conquer the tyranny of human prejudice, too,” she added.