The mystery of the modern virgin birth still has scientists stumpedPosted by staff / August 19, 2012
When geneticist Helen Spurway discovered that female guppies were able to conceive without a male via a process known as parthenogenesis and research from other scientists indicated mammals such as cats and ferrets could be forced to conceive without sperm in the 1950s, her inquiring mind began to wonder if herein lay the explanation for possible virgin births in humans.
So began the hunt for women who had supposedly experienced a virgin birth via the Sunday Pictorial, and against all odds, one mother-daughter pair appeared to fit the bill.
One of the readers most intrigued by the invitation was Emmimarie Jones, a housewife in her thirties. Despite the normality of her existence, Emmimarie had a secret. She was convinced her 11-year-old daughter, Monica, was the result of a virgin birth. Monica would have been conceived in the summer of 1944. Her mother was being treated for rheumatism in a women’s hospital in Hanover, in Emmimarie’s native Germany. Emmimarie recovered, but three months later, her weakness returned. When she visited her doctor, he said her unusual tiredness was simply explained – she was pregnant. Emmimarie smiled in disbelief. She knew the facts of life, and she had not been with a man. In fact, at the time she was meant to have conceived, she was confined to the hospital, surrounded by female patients and staff.
Without today’s sophisticated DNA testing, scientists had to rely on other ways of proving or disproving Jones’ claims, all of which they passed except for the final skin graft test. A match would mean the mother’s body should accept the daughter’s skin as if it were her own. Oddly enough, it was the daughter who was better able to accept the mother’s graft, the opposite of what should have occurred, and it left scientists scratching their heads.
Without surviving DNA samples, science may never know what really happened between Emmimarie and Monica, though they have found evidence of what they call “partial parthenogenesis,” where the mother’s egg became an embryo and was only later fertilized by the father, resulting in a child whose blood contained only XX chromosomes and skin that contained X and Y. Complete parthenogenesis isn’t believed to be possible due to a DNA mechanism that prevents naturally occurring virgin births.
As for supernatural virgin births, we’ll leave that one up to faith to determine.
Mysteries of science.
Photo credit: MIRRORPIX & BRITISH LIBRARY NEWSPAPERS