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Is virgin birth possible?

This question has left many of the scientists bewildered until they found out about the virgin birth situations and explained to us all. While it is not common among the larger mammals or the species we observe every day, parthenogenesis, most commonly known as ‘Virgin Birth’, is a form of asexual reproduction in which a female produces offspring without any sexual interaction with a male partner.

Usually, a female egg needs a male sperm to fertilize and form into a zygote, and then into an embryo that develops into a fetus, but in the case parthenogenesis, the progeny occurs directly from an unfertilized egg.

Parthenogenesis is very common in invertebrates (animals without a backbone) like ants, wasps, aphids, insects, squids, snails, etc.  Though it is not unusual in vertebrates, it is rare and is so far found in very few species of lizards, snakes, fish and birds.

Parthenogenesis can be classified in to three types:

1. Obligate Parthenogenesis:

In Obligate parthenogenesis, the organisms reproduce exclusively through asexual means. Examples of such organisms include bdelloid rotifers, velvet worms, flat worms, aphids, Daphnia, certain snails etc. Research says that there are some species including Salamander and Geckos transitioned to obligate Parthenogenesis during evolution.

Source:  Scheuerl, Thomas., et al. “Phenotypic of an Allele Causing Obligate Parthenogenesis.” (2011). Journal of Heredity

2. Facultative Parthenogenesis:

There are some organisms which can switch between sexual and asexual process of reproduction, called as Facultative Parthenogenesis. One such animal, that belongs to the family of lizards and is famous for Facultative parthenogenesis is Komodo Dragon. This animal reproduces asexually whenever there is a need. A komodo dragon was left in an island where there were no other dragons and it happened that it produced its offspring though virgin birth.

Recently, Asian water dragon at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington DC, was also observed having a baby by parthenogenesis. Another interesting case was that of a 62 yr old ball python at St. Louis Zoo which was hadn’t been near a male python for last 15 yrs was spotted coiled around a clutch of eggs in July.  

3. Accidental Parthenogenesis:

There were a very few instances where parthenogenesis occurred by genetic errors (accidental parthenogenesis). Bombyx mori (silkworm butterfly) and Drosophila are two well known examples under this category

So that concludes that it doesn’t always take two to tango when it comes to reproduction in animals and plants. Some of the fantastic examples of this virgin birth are coming forward. So, to answer the question in your mind, is it possible for humans to reproduce by parthenogenesis? While there were a couple of incidents where research labs tired to prove it is possible, but no valid claim has been proven yet.

Life finds a way to go on or should we say, “Mere paas maa hain.”


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