The virgin birth of Christ is a dogmatic claim that is well known to most, if not all, who know anything about Christianity. This dogma is based in Old Covenant prophecies (for example Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah (RSV) 7)) and New Covenant fulfillment (for example Matt 1:23, “”Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew (RSV) 1))
Back to the virgin birth, popular television medical drama House, once aired a Christmas episode where the good doctor used the term parthenogenisis to explain the pregnancy of a woman who, as we find out later, cheated on her husband and could find no way to explain the new life within her to her spouse. This got me thinking and I just got around to giving it further thought – because I remember the term.
The Wikipedia article for parthenogenisis states that the term originates from the “Greek παρθένος parthenos, “virgin”, + γένεσις genesis, “creation.” It goes on to define the term as a “form of asexual reproductionfound in females, where growth and development of embryos occurs without fertilization by a male.” The Wikipedia article goes on to provide some information about the more common (this type of reproduction is rare overall) occurrences of parthenogenesis in the animal kingdom.
As I researched this a bit, I found books as far back as 1901 that reference this term in the realm of scientific theory and plausibility. It is my understanding that the theory was proposed towards the end of the 19th Century.
In 2004, researchers from the University of Tokyo were able to successfully produce parthenogenetic offspring in mice, with only one surviving into adulthood:
Birth of fatherless mouse; implications for mammalian imprinting
A team of researchers from the Tokyo University of Agriculture have published a paper in Nature reporting the creation, birth and survival into adulthood of a parthenogenetic mouse – that is, created solely from female cells [Kono T et al. (2004) Nature 428, 860-864]. Parthenogenesis (derived from the Greek for ‘virgin birth’) is a special form of reproduction by development of an unfertilized female gamete to form a new organism. It occurs naturally in certain conditions among some invertebrates such as bees and ants, and some vertebrate animals including reptiles and snakes. However, this publication is the first example of successful mammalian parthenogenesis, which does not occur in nature; although artificially induced parthenogenesis has been demonstrated in mammals, all previous attempts have resulted in incomplete and abnormal embryonic development. This is due to a phenomenon that occurs in mammalian sexual reproduction called genomic imprinting [We get a sense of how the Birth of Christ is a miracle that can only truly be performed by God who to took the human nature of His most perfect creature in Mary.] – the differential expression of certain genes in the foetus based on whether they are inherited from the father or the mother. Some genes will be expressed primarily from the maternal alleles and others from the paternal alleles. Differential methylation of DNA sequences associated with imprinted genes is thought to control genomic imprinting, which occurs soon after fertilization. Immature oocytes do not show maternal methylation patterns of imprinting.
In reporting on the creation of viable adult mouse from two maternal genomes, [If I read the entire paper I am sure I can get a better handle on this.] this paper not only demonstrates that imprinting is the only effective barrier to parthenogenesis in mammals, but also represents a ground-breaking advance in manipulation of the imprinting process. Perhaps the most surprising feature of these experiments is that altering the expression of just two genes can in some cases circumvent imprinting. The authors themselves note that the “most fascinating riddle” still to be addressed is the question of exactly how appropriate expression of the Igf2 and H19 genes was able to modify the expression levels of so many other genes and produce normal development in the two surviving mutant parthenogenetic mice. Whilst the idea of extending this sort of experimental technique to humans is likely to be eagerly seized upon by some (suggesting, for instance, that it might be used by two homosexual women to create a child genetically related to both of them), in reality such a
pplications would not be feasible. [The good doctor slaps down those who would attempt to use this knowledge for intrinsically evil purposes.] Of 457 mouse embryos created, only one has survived to adulthood, showing that imprinting is not easily bypassed; the laborious procedure is far too unsafe to use for humans and would also be widely considered unethical.
If you are feeling dizzy at this point, let’s add to it by reading the abstract for the paper referenced above, which in my opinion, sheds a bit of clarifying light on the issue of genetic imprinting and how this could only perfectly occur through an act of God working within a perfect creature to become Himself incarnate:
Only mammals have relinquished parthenogenesis, a means of producing descendants solely from maternal germ cells. Mouse parthenogenetic embryos die by day 10 of gestation. Bi-parental reproduction is necessary because of parent-specific epigenetic modification of the genome during gametogenesis. This leads to unequal expression of imprinted genes from the maternal and paternal alleles. However, there is no direct evidence that genomic imprinting is the only barrier to parthenogenetic development. Here we show the development of a viable parthenogenetic mouse individual from a reconstructed oocyte containing two haploid sets of maternal genome, derived from non-growing and fully grown oocytes. This development was made possible by the appropriate expression of the Igf2 and H19 genes with other imprinted genes [They got me here too.], using mutant mice [I hope Our Blessed Lord and Mother do not take offense to this but I would view her Immaculate Conception as a type of “reverse mutation” of her soul that removed the stain of Original Sin thus ensuring that her state as a “perfect” human creature. By the way, sin has a spiritual and physical effect on all of us (CCC 402-406).] with a 13-kilobase deletion in the H19 gene as non-growing oocytes donors. This full-term development is associated with a marked reduction in aberrantly expressed genes. The parthenote developed to adulthood with the ability to reproduce offspring. These results suggest that paternal imprinting prevents parthenogenesis, ensuring that the paternal contribution is obligatory for the descendant.
As a believer who takes to heart the Luke 1:37, the last sentence of the abstract is something of a revelation. In our natural state, it is the “intelligent designer” who caused the need for mammalian, especially human, offspring to require paternal genetic contribution in order to be viable. It is this need that “prevents parthenogenesis.” Because God is the creator, the miracle of the Virgin Birth (physical) and even the Immaculate Conception (spiritual) are well within nature, which only God has full mastery over.
This is how we know Jesus is God. He demonstrated such mastery over the material (and spiritual) world in order to provide proof of His purpose and origin. This is also the case in the Old Testament.
I am going to end this post here because there is so much that can be said about the Mystery of God. Be rest assured, I will certainly bring this up again. Just keep this in mind that Truth is revealed to us by God, whether it be in the realm of science or religion, because “God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive.” (1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church 215)