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The End of Sex?
August 19, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Science is Rewriting the Rules of Reproduction Aarathi Prasad's new book investigates taking sex out of the reproduction equation.

Here she describes the "ultimate solo parent" of the future. This woman can use her own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to produce healthy new eggs and sperm at any age, is capable of reproducing entirely alone by making one of her eggs behave like a pseudo-sperm that can be used to fertilise herself, and has no need to carry the embryo in her own body. Instead it gestates in an artificial womb, which acts as a highly evolved incubator. The same field of technology would enable gay couples to have children created from both their DNA, and make it just as easy for a man to become a single parent as a woman.
posted by modernnomad (28 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
This woman can use her own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to produce healthy new eggs and sperm at any age, is capable of reproducing entirely alone by making one of her eggs behave like a pseudo-sperm that can be used to fertilise herself...

The ultimate form of inbreeding.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:21 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's okay. The previous thread demonstrates that humanity has now achieved the pinnacle of sexuality. Let's find another transcendent wonder of creation to work our magic on.
posted by XMLicious at 2:25 PM on August 19, 2012


But then who would the uni-parent blame if the kid grows up to be an utter disappointment?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:30 PM on August 19, 2012


This is backward. We should be concentrating on taking reproduction out of the sex equation.
posted by cmoj at 2:38 PM on August 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


In the year 6565
You won't need no husbands, won't need no wives
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
Whoa-oh

posted by Faint of Butt at 2:52 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, "go fuck yourself" won't have the same meaning in 20 years as it does today. Noted.

Science fiction has been playing with these ideas for a long time. About damn time science catches up.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:52 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is backward. We should be concentrating on taking reproduction out of the sex equation.

Well, that's not a problem for me.

I actually kind of hope that this sort of thing becomes commonly available during my lifetime — adopting children (what I'm likely to do with my partner) is fine but part of me wants to actually reproduce and raise my biological offspring.
posted by spitefulcrow at 2:55 PM on August 19, 2012


I have been quizzing my biologist friends about the possibility of turning eggs into sperm and vice versa. This book looks pretty interesting!
posted by muddgirl at 2:57 PM on August 19, 2012


...make it just as easy for a man to become a single parent as a woman.

Jim Bob Duggar will be so excited at the possibility that he could be as constantly pregnant as his wife!

(I realize that's actually referring to artificial wombs though. Headline 2095: Duggar Family Now Forms 73% of U.S. Population.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2012


I don't know why this is framed as making sex history (or, for the FPP, as the End of Sex). I think that people have been having sex for reasons other than reproduction for a long time, and to any extent that they can separate the two further, they will continue to do that.

I agree that it's rewriting a whole lot of rules, and this has IMMENSE implications about a whole LOT of stuff, but it will be a revitalization of sex (not that sex needed revitalization...), not the end thereof.
posted by subversiveasset at 3:10 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, It's correct that "go f#ck yourself" won't have the same meaning in 20 years as it does today.
posted by cagsan at 3:36 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humans have arguably always used sex as much or more for social/pair bonding reasons as for reproduction; that's not new, but it's also not what this headline is claiming is new. The new thing is reproduction without sex: not just without the "sex act" (that's not new either; artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization are unexceptional means of conception now) but without having to combine your genes with someone's of the opposite sex.

I actually think the artificial womb (which much of the article talks about) would be a larger societal change than whatever mucking about with gametes.
posted by hattifattener at 3:37 PM on August 19, 2012


And if you can have a child with only one (possibly narcissistic) biological parent, why not go the other way and have children with DNA from more than two biological parents? There could be a child with thirty-two biological parents; its DNA may look a bit like the great-great-great-grandchild of said 32 people (assuming a 50-50 gender split, of course), only minus mutations and a century or so's wait.
posted by acb at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The same field of technology would enable gay couples to have children created from both their DNA

I'm not gay, and I have some female friends who I'd happily have children with. Maybe reproduction could be entirely divorced from pair-bonding.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I attended a lecture by a bio-ethicist back in the days when Dolly the sheep was new on the scene. He was giving edge cases of what was possible to do with cloning and such. At one point he was talking about people accusing scientists of "playing God," and the pitfalls future generations would face. This was twenty years or so ago.

One of the things he mentioned was that if technologies like mentioned in this FPP were to be allowed there be chaos! He was a bit too far to the right and a bit too religious in my mind to be a good ethicist.

He kept saying, "Just because science says we can do something doesn't mean we should do something." He talked of immortality and single parenting and cloning.

He was firmly against human cloning. There needed to be laws and regulations and... I didn't get it. I kept thinking, "Fire up that vat baby, I'm going to need a new liver in 20 years. Just don't give it a brain and I'm good with pulling the plug when I'm done harvesting the organs I need." Balance that idea with a need to be on anti-rejection drugs for a lifetime, needing to be on a waiting list, and only getting a couple decades out of someone else's liver, repeating this process, having a diminished quality of life, and still dying younger than needed after great drug and surgical expenses (and care since transplants aren't outpatient procurers). Yep, vat baby it is.

Then he started talking about how people will *gasp* want to clone themselves. Again, I was "Why not?" I'd make a better Dad than my biodad. I'd actually be there since I invested more in the whole affair than a steak dinner. I'm guessing this wouldn't be a cheap proposition. IVF is fucking insanely expensive. So if I can afford a clonebaby of myself who are you to tell me no? Seriously, if I was able to raise myself I'd be all, "Don't start drinking until you are at least 12. Try harder at math. Here's an iPad learn Chinese and Spanish. If you eat like I did you'll look like I do. Thank me for not cutting off part of your wang, or have it cut off yourself, when you're an adult, if you like. No your brother does not look like you did at that age. Yes, families with 37 kids all born a month apart without a mother are perfectly normal. No you can't watch Altered States again, you've all seen it 87 times already. It's time for a new family movie. Anyone seen Excalibur before?

"Dammit Christopher! No. The other one. Your brother!"


Now when he said someday you could clone yourself as a woman that was crazy talk. That would obviously be unethical.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:43 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sweet, then Republicans can just outlaw sex altogether! They already have a Junior Anti-Sex League ready to go and everything!
posted by Phire at 5:28 PM on August 19, 2012


A couple of things,

First, I won't be happy with this until Stravag Freebirth! becomes a particularly mean and oft-used denigration.

Second, I agree with taking reproduction out of sex while taking sex out of reproduction. We can't sustain the number of people we have at the consumption levels they want. We need fewer people, and while the biological imperative is still chu-chu-churning about in our brains that's not going to be possible. So, I guess, to reach a sort of point here, putting the kibosh on the urge to procreate at the cellular/chemical level should be top priority in this field of reproductive sciences.

And third, well, the third is another Battletech reference so I'll leave it for now.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:31 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, that pretty much destroys the whole premise of Idiocracy.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:39 PM on August 19, 2012


It's more likely the republicans would use artificial wombs as an excuse to outlaw abortion, under the excuse that the embryo could removed from the mother and brought to term. At her expense of course-don't want anything like socialized medicine.
posted by happyroach at 5:41 PM on August 19, 2012


Cf. The SCUM Manifesto
posted by swift at 6:33 PM on August 19, 2012


Well, that pretty much destroys the whole premise of Idiocracy.

Why? It's not like the wealthy in general are any smarter than the rest of us.
posted by MikeKD at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2012


I reallllllly want artificial wombs to exist and work already. Body birthing is insane.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:09 PM on August 19, 2012


This is a really bad idea.

There are two types of asexual-ish reproduction - clonal reproduction and selfing. Clonal reproduction is where you reproduce a copy with the exact same genes. This is relatively safe, since the offspring has the same genetic traits as the progenitor. In selfing, you fertilize yourself (lots of plants do this) so you get all of your own alleles; however, often, you get two of the same allele. If your species has adapted to work this way, it's great. If your species hasn't...

If you modify an egg or sperm into the other kind of reproductive cell and combine them from the same person, it's obviously selfing.

To put it another way; you know how the children of close relatives mating are messed-up? This is the absolute worst-case scenario.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:26 PM on August 19, 2012


The idea of yet more ways to reproduce in a world of 700 billion and counting is insane to my thinking, and yet there are enough people out there who want to reproduce that this is probably going to happen, regardless of consequences.
Maybe it's less awful than some of the ways people are using now to by-pass reproductive difficulties.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:32 AM on August 20, 2012


The idea of yet more ways to reproduce in a world of 700 billion and counting is insane to my thinking

Geez, what planet do you live on? That sounds really awful. We only have 7 billion here and it's already getting pretty crowded. :(
posted by Estraven at 4:01 AM on August 20, 2012


Referring to the above, "F yourself!" the ultimate insult in this future will be, "YOU TWO PARENTS piece of sh-t!"
posted by Mikon6 at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2012


outlaw abortion, under the excuse that the embryo could removed from the mother and brought to term

I'm fairly certain I've read either a novel or short story where this was the premise. Don't know what it was or if I finished it, but it's something that others have considered. Ugh.

The new thing is reproduction without sex

True, but I think those are two sides of the same coin. Reliable, user-transparent contraception allows sex without reproduction -- at least for women, hopefully a similar pill for men won't be far off. Reproduction without sex (the act of) is also fairly new, but hasn't been picked up as quickly or had as widespread social effects. I think that's part of the reason why sex and reproduction haven't been completely divorced; it's still the way most people reproduce, whether accidentally or because they want to.

But any advances made on either front -- either making it less and less likely that you'll become pregnant or get someone pregnant inadvertently as a side-effect of sex, or allowing you to become pregnant or otherwise reproduce without sex or another person -- push the two activities further and further apart socially.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:02 AM on August 20, 2012


cjorgensen: "So, "go fuck yourself" won't have the same meaning in 20 years as it does today. Noted.

Science fiction has been playing with these ideas for a long time. About damn time science catches up.
"

I've enjoyed the way Lois McMaster Bujold's space operas actually addressed some of the social implications of artificial wombs and cloning.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:59 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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