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A Virgin Mouse Gave Birth to a Litter of Baby Mice

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Yanchang Wei

The bible is no longer the only place where you’ll read testimonies about a virgin birth. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University report the results of a new experiment where they were able to make a female mouse give birth to a baby mouse that grew from an unfertilized egg—something that has never before been accomplished in mammals. More than just a story of some eccentric scientists trying to play god, the new breakthrough may help us fully flesh out the role of genetics in regulating reproduction, and potentially provide insight into treating and even curing congenital diseases in people.

The seemingly miraculous process of immaculate conception—what scientists call parthenogenesis—isn’t actually all that rare in nature. While sexual reproduction requires the genetic union of an unfertilized egg and a single sperm, parthenogenesis is basically asexual reproduction: The egg grows into an embryo and later a full organism by replicating its cells, like a genetic copy-paste. The result is an offspring that is genetically identical to its parent—a clone.

In the wild, this form of reproduction is a common sight among invertebrates like worms and honey bees; and sometimes among vertebrates like sharks, California condors, and anacondas.

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