Is "Virgin Birth" hyperbolic enough?
August 4, 2007 2:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm sure everyone remembers last year's kerfuffle about Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced scientist who fraudulently claimed to have created human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Well, it turns out he actually did something more remarkable - he created human stem cells from unfertilised eggs by parthenogenesis. The verification of this was published with a suitably dry title for consumption by scientists, but the popular press was quick to jump on more loaded phrases.
posted by nowonmai (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They're all shouting about "Virgin births" despite the fact that, you know, nobody got born. It kind of annoys me: the implication of this technology is that it could be possible to make stems cells that could be used to treat any woman just by activating her eggs, in a way that avoids some of the controversy attached to cloning. So why go round invoking religious imagery?
posted by nowonmai at 2:06 PM on August 4, 2007

nowonmai: It's culture war. If we continue to embrace science, we will continue to tear down the tenets of religion. Many established powers find this threatening.
posted by polyhedron at 2:16 PM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, you must realize that the closer we get to realizing virgin birth, the closer we get to a new messiah to redeem us from the moral degradation caused by all this excessive science. We must have something to look forward to.
posted by zapatosunidos at 2:22 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most religious people today, at least in America, won't even admit that humans are a type of animal.

Too many people collect tithes or votes from the ignorant. They are trying their hardest (and with more than a little success) to entrench and solidify their point of view in the laws of the world.

Seriously, this appears to be a source of embryonic stem cells that doesn't involve the destruction of a fertilized egg. It accords with all previous objections to embryonic stem cell research. But are the people who opposed embryonic stem cells before embracing this methodology? Of course not. That would make way too much sense.
posted by polyhedron at 2:26 PM on August 4, 2007

Technically, aren't all forms of cloning a 'virgin birth' under this definition? After all, even if you're transplanting nuclei there's still just one set of parental DNA.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 2:27 PM on August 4, 2007

Technically, aren't all forms of cloning a 'virgin birth' under this definition? After all, even if you're transplanting nuclei there's still just one set of parental DNA.

Yes, it seems that way. Even in-vitro fertilization could be considered a virgin birth, if the woman was, in fact, a virgin.
posted by delmoi at 2:31 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

So, the guy was a fraud because he lied about how he obtained his results, but he actually did succeed at doing something new and useful?

That would actually be pretty damn cool.

Me: Look! I created a perpetual motion machine!

Them: No you didn't, you're a fraud.


Them: Yeah, this totally isn't a perpetual motion device, but it is a cold fusion machine.

Press: Fraud scientist invents Ark of the Covenant. Is this a radio for talking to God? News at 11.
posted by quin at 3:40 PM on August 4, 2007 [10 favorites]

What's really stupid about the 'virgin birth' term is that these embryos are not viable. They're not 'people'. They're just tissue from the mother that's been tricked into looking something like a fetus, but which won't become one.

There's nothing to object to here on a religious basis, but who knows if that'll stop anyone from actually objecting.
posted by Malor at 4:11 PM on August 4, 2007

Of course, virgin birth isn't really the right term. The immaculate conception claims that pregnancy occurred without the "touch of a man." It's only touted as virgin birth because of centuries of idiots that needed to make a miraculous claim seem even more so and had no ability to foresee technological developments like in-vitro.

Even in-vitro utilizes a man's sperm, so the "touch" just gets a bit more obscure. The same logic would work for cloning, since the original DNA source was itself created through such a union.

Really, though, what's more miraculous: the thought that Mary became pregnant without the "touch of a man" or that she was married for that long and was still a virgin? Well, I guess she was Jewish...(I kid, I kid!)
posted by mystyk at 4:14 PM on August 4, 2007

Actually mystyk, dersins pointed out to me a couple of days ago that that is an incorrect interpretation of immaculate conception.

It refers to Mary being born without original sin. So here 'virgin birth' would actually be a more accurate term, though in this context, that is pretty laughable.
posted by quin at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2007

It's been a while since I took Greek, but doesn't parthenogenesis mean (roughly) virgin birth?
posted by stopgap at 4:41 PM on August 4, 2007

Hmm. I guess you have a pretty good point there. I affixed the term for one religious claim onto the substance of another. I have to assume that if I were still religious today - as I was when I was a brainwashed 10-year old - I would have caught the oversight.
posted by mystyk at 5:03 PM on August 4, 2007

Perhaps this is why God is punishing the Koreans by having them get kidnapped and murdered by the Taliban.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2007

Wouldn't this qualify as an immaculate misconception?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Parthenogenesis (from the Greek παρθένος parthenos, "virgin", + γένεσις genesis, "creation") is the growth and development of an embryo or seed without fertilization by a male. Parthenogenesis occurs naturally in some species, including lower plants, invertebrates (e.g. water fleas, aphids, some bees and parasitic wasps), and vertebrates (e.g. some reptiles, fish, and, very rarely, birds and sharks). It is sometimes also used to describe reproduction modes in hermaphroditic species which can self-fertilize.

stopgap: Literally translated, yes. However, the term is typically used to refer to species for which virginity would be a non-attribute.
posted by mystyk at 5:09 PM on August 4, 2007

That link should go here.
posted by mystyk at 5:11 PM on August 4, 2007

As a silly aside, I wonder how many times the antichrist/second-coming-of-Christ has been aborted when someone got pregnant and thought it was because they got knocked up when they were passed out at a party... I can see if now, the son of God, back in heaven pissing and moaning about, "Man, Daaaad, I got aborted again..."

Jesus Christ, as a male, couldn't have been a result of parthenogensis - the female egg lacks a Y chromosome.

Also, a parthenogenesis-derived blastula may very well have problems developing as the second copy of the X chromosome may not have the chance to be inactivated.
posted by porpoise at 5:12 PM on August 4, 2007

Or perhaps the 80% of times a fertilized egg is spontaneously and naturally aborted, porpoise.

The odds are very strong against being born.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:10 PM on August 4, 2007

Jesus Christ, as a male, couldn't have been a result of parthenogensis - the female egg lacks a Y chromosome.

Maybe Jesus was a female posing as a male. We know he/she was crucified with a loincloth, so it seems possible he/she could have made it the whole way through the gospel without being outed.

This could be why he/she was "despised and rejected of men", and "as one from whom men hide their face, he was despised and we esteemed him not".

In fact, perhaps it was rumors circulating about the truth of his/her gender that engendered such antipathy in the Jews who insisted on his/her crucifiction, and it is this very reason he/she WAS crucified with a loincloth (even though it is historically clear people were crucified naked) -- to hide the shame & sacrilege to the Jews of a female having posed for years as a male Nazarene.

Of course, explaining how he/she made it through his/her bris unouted is going to take some creativity. Wow -- maybe Jesus was never circumcised! After all, they were in Egypt at that time...omigod! maybe Joseph and Mary took him to an egyptian to be circumcised, because they couldn't find a mohel! The egyptian, being accustomed to circumcising females, thought nothing of it. And perhaps the circumcision went poorly, and it was the resulting scar tissue growth that allowed Jesus to pass as a boy and be accepted into the temple for schooling.

And the fact that Jesus was a female passing as a male TOTALLY explains his/her relationship with Mary Magdalene.

There we are. I've created a new sect.
posted by lastobelus at 6:41 PM on August 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

That was good, but you didn't tie it in to Roswell, the Illuminati, or Opus Dei.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:11 PM on August 4, 2007

I've got a better one -- what if Jesus was really a Jew?!

I wonder, by the way, has anyone ever done a survey among Christians regarding that little item?
posted by Krrrlson at 10:02 PM on August 4, 2007

Jesus was a Jew. He was the original member of Jews for Jesus, or as he called it, Jews for Me.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:50 PM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Most religious people today, at least in America, won't even admit that humans are a type of animal.

Well, given their level of the critical thinking skills many of them display, it wouldn't be out of line to suggest that they actually are vegetables.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:42 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:45 AM on August 5, 2007

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