Jan 24, 2007

Virgin Birth Authenticated: Babies Just Arrived!

Part II

Not sure why I love this story so much, but I do. Flora, the pregnant virgin mother has finally given birth—to five baby komodo dragons. One zoo curator joked that Flora is both "mum and dad" to her 16" long youngsters (aren't they precious? see pic at left). The babies are enjoying healthy meals of crickets and locusts.

Flora's self-fertilization is a neat trick some reptiles can do, known as parthenogenesis. But for komodos to be able to do it is new terrain.
"Scientists hope the discovery will pave the way to finding other species capable of self fertilization." It could also make a difference for some species hovering closer to extinction.

DNA testing confirms no male helped mama Flora.
But are the five baby dragons clones of their mother? No, answer herpetologists. Each is a unique variation on the mother's gene theme. But guys, don't feel doomed—parthenogenesis is strictly for emergencies.

Part I
D
o you believe in the miracle of the virgin birth? Well, you would if you were one komodo dragon named Flora, living at the Chester zoo, in the U.K., along with a team of scientists at Liverpool University, who authenticated the virgin conception.

Sound impossible? The scientists thought so too. Although some other lizard species can spontaneously self-fertilize—in a process called parthenogenesis—it's extremely rare, and never before known to take place in komodo dragons. (Bees and potatoes can do this amazing feat too, in case you were wondering.) Even niftier than this virgin conception is the newly discovered ability of these dragons to switch back and forth between male-female reproduction and self-reproduction, depending on necessity (and thus perpetuating the species).

Here is another odd thing about virgin reproduction you may not have known,

"The genetics of this type of parthenogenesis in lizards means that all her hatchlings would have to be male. These would grow up to mate with their own mother and therefore, within one generation, there would potentially be a population able to reproduce normally . . .

"If a human virgin birth could occur, Jesus should have been a girl, not a boy, because all his genes must have come from Mary. She would only have the genetic wherewithal—in humans, a bundle of genes called the X chromosome—to make a female."

In other words, well, sorry about that, but if the other, most famous virgin birth were also authentic, Jesus would have been a she. But that's just semantics. Back to the dragon, isn't she adorable? And amazingly adaptive for a gal, to be able to pull off a real virgin birth. Expect to hear more about Flora's florabundant clutch of eggs as it gets closer to Christmas.

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