Self-fertilizing females to take over the world

Just kidding. But research suggests female-only conception may be possible.

Topics: Broadsheet, Love and Sex,

Science is considering taking the concept of single motherhood a step further. Professor Karim Nayernia at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K. is taking stem cells from harvested human bone marrow and turning them into sperm cells. (Last year, Nayernia had similar success creating artificial sperm from embryonic stem cells in mice.) So far, Nayernia and Co. have only created sperm cells using cells taken from men, but they may be able to create sperm using cells from women’s bone marrow, a finding that “brings the prospect of female-only conception a step closer,” the Independent reports. Yowza!

We’re not living the dream just yet: The researchers are still working out some pesky questions like whether the process is possible, whether it’s safe and whether it’s ethical. And even if it all worked out, there’d be some limitations; lacking the Y chromosome, self-fertilizing women would only be able to have daughters.

The creepy, feminist-utopia implications of this potential step will probably alarm some people. (As the Independent reminds us, the field of literature offers numerous scenarios featuring female-only societies, from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland” to Doris Lessing’s “The Cleft,” many of which have troublingly eugenicist overtones and/or end in disaster.) I tend to think the number of women who’d want to retreat into a single-sex society is relatively small, though, so even if this research works out I’m not too concerned that it will eradicate life as we know it.

Also worth noting: The current research project has potential benefits for both men and women. Creating sperm cells from stem cells may help infertile men father children; were the self-fertilization side of things to work out, lesbian couples would be able to have children that were biologically related to both parents. Not that current solutions like sperm and egg donation, surrogacy and adoption aren’t helping to create great families; of course they are, but it’d be nice to have additional options.

We’ll keep you posted!

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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