Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Are men snowed out in this endless stream of fight for gender equality? While I set out to bring home small crumb of comfort for men, we cannot entirely dispense with scientific progress. Men dominance over women has been well-nigh universal for centuries throughout the entire globe. Biologically and anatomically speaking, men and women cannot be equal, though they must have equal rights. This is evolutionary in nature and because of division of labour. For ages, women have been unable to challenge this warped men self-esteem effectively, though not due to want of efforts. The British suffragettes of early 20th century and the Feminist movements of the ‘70s that started in America when they used the symbolism of “bra-burning” to show independence of men haven’t done much to smash male chauvinism.
Columnist Zoe Strimpet writes in the Sunday Telegraph (Dec 23 2018). “This obsession with gender is regressive, not progressive. Back in ‘70s, Britain’s fledgling feminist movement was brimming with angry women. Back then, women had good reason to be angry. What women had to put up with on a daily basis beggars belief.”
“And today? There’s a reason that older feminists, those of the (mythical) bra-burning generation, find themselves bewildered by how millennial women carry on. We’ve never had so good, thanks to decades of ever-refined anti-discrimination legislations, a contraceptive and abortion system […] – evangelical commitment to wiping out aa forms of sexual harassment.”
Male chauvinism or prejudice against women as inferior human beings has been a natural intuition since the hunter-gatherer ancestors of Stone. Nicholas Chauvin, the Napoleonic soldier noted for his extreme patriotism, lent to the English word chauvinism for antipathy towards women. The phrase “male chauvinism” was first used in a play by an American playwright Clifford Odets in 1935. The trend however, is slowly changing. More and more intellectually superior women are holding top political positions in many countries. Even in Manipur, Many women like RK Meme Devi (IGP Police), Victoria Yengkhom (SP Police) are sitting on top of their men colleagues. British women now, are not only allowed to fight in the frontlines but they are open to enlist inthe British SAS (Special Air Service), one of world’s top forces (fighting behind enemy lines).
But the reality of science cannot be disputed. It mayenable womento produce babies without the need of men. Would that mean the end of men in human reproduction, making men redundant in the continuation of human species?
It’s all because of mice. Recently in China, fatherless mice developed normally and went on to produce healthy offspring. In human reproduction, genes from both father and mother are required to form a baby. However, scientists from China, have recently pushed back the barriers for same-sex reproduction in humans. They have demonstrated for the first timethat mammals (eg mice) can have parents of the same sex,particularly females. They have shown the birth of a healthy baby born to two mothers using stem cells and gene editing. The technique can apply to humans. The discovery has gripped the entire scientific community. A team led by Qi Zhou at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, stunned geneticists all over the world by revealing that they have effectively and successfully rewritten the natural rules of reproduction.In October 2018, not only did they reproduce 29 mice successfully from the same sex, female parents, but the offspring also went on to have healthy babies themselves. Bad news for men. The experiment was originally tried on using two male parents but failed, with the pups dying within days of being born. The double-dad approach was slightly more complicated.
The Chinese scientists have identified and overcome the millions of years-old practice of male-female involvement in human reproduction. Though it’s unlikely to come very soon because of many constraints and human desire for copulation, it will certainly prove the way for same sex human couples such as lesbians and gays to create their own babies.
Though mammals generally, can only reproduce sexually when a female egg is fertilised by a male sperm, there a few animals in the natural world, such as reptiles, fish and amphibians that are capable of reproducing alone at times. Hammerhead sharks and Komodo dragons do it all the time. This is known as ‘parthenogenesis’ in scientific circles. There has been a very long-standing question in biology, why in mammals including humans, equal genetic contributions from both a mother and a father are necessary. This is known to be because of a major barrier – a phenomenon known as “imprinting”, where without the right copy of the gene from the motherand the father, a viable embryo cannot be produced. A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, containing all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.In the process, each cell expresses, or turns on, only a fraction of its genes. The rest of the genes are repressed, or turned off. Thispractice of turning genes on and off is known as ‘gene regulation’. Normally in human embryos, the male genes make up for the female genes that are not on and vice versa. This means an embryo made up of the same-sex genes will have to miss some genes.Scientists overcame this barrier by obtaining some embryonic stem cells which have been linked to a genetic pair from a female mouse, using the ‘gene-editing Crisp-Cas9’ and scissors. They were able to remove maternal ‘imprinting’ by “snipping” out a single letter of the genetic code from three crucial regions of DNA. This effectively made the genetic material appear more like “male” in terms of its imprinting pattern. The edited stem cells were then injected into the unfertilised egg of a second female when the genetic materials from the two female mice combined to form an embryo successfully.That’s how theChinese scientists were able to create 210 embryos, out of which 29 live healthy mice were born. Notwithstanding, the generated mice still showed defective features, and the method itself is very impractical and hard to use.”
Researcher Wei Li said: “We saw that defects in bimaternal mice(born of two mothers) can be eliminated. We also revealed some of the most important imprinted regions that hinder the development of mice with same sex parents.In short, Chinese researchers used a technology to delete three sets of genetic instructions to make the genes compatible, without which the offspring would be defective. Approving comments from Dr Teresa Holm, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, came: “There was a chance in the longer term that the technique could be developed to apply to humans and even lead to the development of ways for same-sex couples to reproduce healthy children of their own, though significant ethical and safety concerns would need to be overcome.” There are always ethical questions in genetic research even with the idea of “designer babies” – in which parents can choose genetic traits for their babies. Some have warned that editing individual human genes could affect the ‘gene pool’in future generations and carry unintended consequences. The gene pool refers to the total number of genes of every individual in an inbreeding population. Because of evolutionary forces, unchanged gene pool keeps a population in genetic equilibrium. Dr Tim Hore, an expert in epigenetics (the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself) at the University of Otago in New Zealand, said: “Despite the potential of the latest Chinese study, the technology just isn’t enough for practical application. The tremendous amount of genetic modification needed in order to do what these Chinese researchers did, make it implausible to use it in anything other than research.”
Almost all vertebrates reproduce sexually.However very rarely, some species like the turkeys, can do so sexually or asexually.Many explanations are given as to why turkeys reproduce asexually on occasions (as high as 40% of offspring are products of parthenogenesis). Nothing specific.
I often wonder where we will be without experiments on mice and other animals such as dog! Animal Rights Activists (strong in UK) against anthropocentrism, view that non-human animals have rights (biblical). It has to be tested for effectiveness and safety in animalsbefore it is given to humans. Animal tests are done humanly and without suffering, governed by law, inevery civilised country in the world. Most animals are euthanised after being used in an experiment. Even slaughter for food in the West, requires anaesthetics. That includes Muslim ‘Halal’ and ‘Quarbani’(sacrifice)in Eid-ul-Adha, in the UK.
Around 100 million vertebrate animals ranging from zebrafish, mice, rats, amphibians and reptiles to non-human primates, such as rhesus monkeys and marmosets (New world monkeys)are used experimentally annually worldwide.Whilst over 56 billion farmed animals are killed for food every year.
Finally, my consolation for men. There shouldn’t be any panic. There’s no imminent threat. The prospect of the technique being used in people is long way off. The test is only in mice.It will not happen until scientists could be sure any such baby would grow up with normal mental and physical fitness.
In my considered opinion, it’ll never happen. It’ll be self-destruction of the human race, inconsistent with human evolution.
The writer is based in the UK. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.drimsing.co.uk
Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh