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Medicine: Virgin Birth

2 minute read

Prime advocate of the theory that living creatures are no more than highly coordinated systems of chemical and physical reactions was German-born Biologist Jacques Loeb. In 1899, by fertilizing sea-urchin eggs with chemicals and producing young larvae, he struck a heavy blow at the popular vitalistic theory which maintained that some intangible “vital spirit” or “entelechy” was necessary to life. Sixteen years later, he grew healthy tadpoles from frog eggs fertilized by a needle prick, showed his scientific opponents that no vital spirit from a male frog was necessary for creation of new life.

Still significant, but no longer raging among scientists, is the Vitalism v. Mechanism controversy. Parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, has long been recognized in certain worms, crustaceans, plant lice, and many artificial parthenogenesis experiments have been performed with mechanical or chemical stimulation.

Two years ago Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus of Clark University. Worcester, Mass, fertilized rabbit eggs with chemicals, produced several healthy bunnies. Last week Dr. Stanley Philip Reimann, cancer expert of Philadelphia’s Lankenau Hospital Research Institute, announced to the Pathological Society of Philadelphia that he had artificially fertilized a human egg cell.

Dr. Reimann and his assistant, Bernard J. Miller, obtained an ovum from a Negro woman in the hospital, placed it in a drop of clear white serum strained from human blood, suspended the drop from a glass slide and placed it under a microscope.

A glass needle, fine as a hair, was mechanically pushed against the egg until it went through the elastic membrane. It was immediately withdrawn.

Twenty minutes later the membrane became thinner at one point, and two gobs of yellowish jelly (“polar bodies”) were pushed out. Then the cell became furrowed, but cell division did not actually take place, and the egg was kept alive for only eight hours.

The experiment did not prove that “laboratory babies” were possible. Its significance lay rather in the fact that certain pathological tumors (teratomas) which contain hair, bone and even gland cells, may have developed from egg cells which received mechanical stimulation, started to become embryos. Further experimentation may even shed light on the development of common ovarian cysts.

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