In a pioneering experiment, a University of Cambridge research team used genetic engineering techniques to trigger asexual reproduction in a species that normally reproduce sexually. This feat, known as parthenogenesis, was successfully induced in fruit flies.
The researchers mapped the genome of a fruit fly capable of parthenogenesis, the Drosophila mercatorum, and identified a corresponding gene present in the Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly. Activating the appropriate gene gave that species the ability to carry an embryo without sperm to fertilize their eggs.
Mammalian parthenogenesis is an ethical minefield and, concerningly, is being intensely pursued. As we get closer to understanding the basis for this reproductive ability, we get closer to potentially extending this technology to humans. Researchers have focused little on how these breakthroughs will be applied to real problems humans face, undertaking this research to prove it's possible. We need to seriously consider the bioethical ramifications of this process when applied to humans before we move further.
This tantalizing study has opened a window into a whole new model of reproduction — one that could have ramifications throughout the animal kingdom. Parthenogenesis is more widespread than previously thought, and finally uncovering a genetic basis could create a new frontier in reproduction. Endangered species could replenish their species after developing asexual reproduction, and we could understand the effects reproductive disruption has on a species. The rewards of studying parthenogenesis could be beyond our wildest dreams.
There is a 50% chance that the first cloned human will be born by October 2037, according to the Metaculus prediction community.