A sleepy Burmese snake named Mary at the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam has become the first known python to clone itself. Reptile curator Eugene Bruins announced this spring that nearly 40 percent of Mary's unhatched eggs harbor tiny embryonic replicas. Several snake species are known to reproduce without sperm, a process known as parthenogenesis.
The embryos [of Mary, the Burmese python] are all female, a first for parthenogenic snakes, whose chromosome setup typically produces males only. The Artis Zoo plans to hatch the eggs to see if they inherited Mary's cloning powers. Meanwhile, Mary is being kept far from any male: A single conjugal visit and "the whole special thing would stop at once," Bruins warns.
According to Christian lore, Mary gave birth to baby Jesus without ever having had sex with Joseph. A biologist might describe this as ‘parthenogenesis’, the Greek version of the more familiar phrase ‘virgin birth’ (‘parthenos’ means virgin, and ‘genesis’ means birth).
Shunning fertilisation and giving birth to young through parthenogenesis is rare among higher animals, occurring in only one in every thousand species. Nonetheless... eight virgin births took place in the English town of Chester. The mother’s name was Flora and she was a komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are an endangered species in their island homes of Indonesia. Fifty-two zoos around the world co-operate in a dedicated breeding programme that aims to boost the natural populations of these largest of lizards.
Researchers say they have confirmed suspicions that embryonic stem cells claimed to be extracted from the first cloned human embryo by discredited South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang actually owe their existence to parthenogenesis, a process in which egg cells give rise to embryos without being fertilized by sperm. A series of genetic markers sprinkled throughout the cells' chromosomes show the same pattern found in parthenogenetic mice as opposed to cloned mice, according to a report published online today in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Although Hwang deceived the world about achieving the first human cloning, his group was first to succeed in performing human parthenogenesis, which may offer a way of creating cells that are genetically matched to a woman for transplantation back into her body to treat degenerative diseases. "I think this is an extremely important—and solid—paper," says stem cell researcher Robert Lanza, vice president of research and scientific development at Applied Cell Technology, a regenerative medicine company headquartered in Alameda, Calif., who did not take part in the study. "It conclusively proves that the stem cell line in question was not cloned as claimed, but rather was generated through parthenogenesis."
Leiolepis ngovantrii was discovered when a Vietnamese scientist noticed a tank of surprisingly similar-looking lizards in a southern Vietnam restaurant. The Leiolepis lizard exhibits very different colors in male and female specimens, so the fact that every single lizard appeared to be female was a clue that these might not be your run-of-the-mill Leiolepis. In fact, Leiolepis ngovantrii turned out to be one of a few Leiolepis species that reproduces by parthenogenesis.
[A parthenogenic organism is] not quite the same as an artificial clone, in which the clone has the exact same genetic footprint as the parent--a parthenogenic Leiolepis ngovantrii offspring is capable of giving birth itself and has a different genetic code than its parent. This is uncommon but not unheard-of in lizards, fish, and many invertebrates. In lizards, it's usually the result of a lizard from one specific environment mating with a lizard from an adjacent but very different environment.
With President Obama’s stimulus plan, more federal money will go to scientific research—which could create new jobs. But because NIH is the country’s largest funding source for scientific research, many scientists worry that promising research—such as SCNT and parthenogenesis—will fall behind, leaving private companies and some state agencies to foot the bill.
Bdelloid rotifiers are microscopic animals that live in birdbaths, rivers and on mosses. They’ve been around for at least 40 million years. Which is particularly amazing, because they’ve never had sex. No, they didn’t all take a vow of celibacy. It turns out the rotifers are all female. They multiply by parthenogenesis—from unfertilized eggs. That feat is not unusual in nature. But the fact that the little critters have evolved into quite distinct species is. Scientists at Imperial College in London used DNA analysis and a scanning electron microscope to find that the rotifers have adapted to minute differences in environment, even though they reproduce from only one parent.