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Virgin Birth Possible?

on November 6, 2010

BBC News: “Snake Gives ‘Virgin Birth’ to Extraordinary BabiesIf virgin birth is possible, does that mean Jesus was no “miracle baby”?

The offspring all have only half of their mother’s genes, including two female sex chromosomes.

“Parthenogenesis” is the technical term for what is commonly called virgin birth. As the common name suggests, there’s something strange about parthenogenesis: an animal (or plant) that normally reproduces sexually reproduces asexually instead. Outside of plants and invertebrate animals, parthenogenesis is extremely rare, having been documented in fewer than one in every thousand vertebrate species (including species of lizards and sharks); even in those species, it seems to be a rare behavior.

In this case, a female boa constrictor seems to have had multiple virgin births—despite having been “courted” by male snakes. What tipped the researchers off to the unique births is that all twenty-two offspring of the female boa are female, and all sport the same rare coloring as their mother that’s linked to a recessive gene (both highly unlikely results had sex occurred).

Genetic analysis by a team at North Carolina State University revealed more strange results. The offspring all have only half of their mother’s genes, including two female sex chromosomes—which is unheard of and was previously thought unviable. (Male snakes usually have two male sex chromosomes and female snakes have one male and one female sex chromosome.) This further confirms a case of parthenogenesis.

Scientists are just beginning to unravel this fascinating behavior, and there remain many puzzles about why some species ever give birth in this manner. Unsurprisingly, the casual temptation for a skeptic may be to suggest that, even if there were a Jesus of Nazareth born of a virgin, it could have been through a parthenogenetic process. But given that parthenogenesis results in a near clone of the parent—and hence, all offspring are female—no one can suggest that a virgin conception of Christ could have been anything but miraculous.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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