Scientists Discover Genetic Secret of Virgin Birth

Virgin Birth

While the concept of virgin birth has been historically linked to religious narratives like the birth of Jesus Christ to the Virgin Mary, researchers have now discovered a genetic trigger for virgin births in fruit flies. Once activated, this ability can be passed down to subsequent female generations. When devoid of males, these flies opt for virgin birth, a survival tactic ensuring the species’ continuation.

For the first time, scientists have identified a genetic cause of virgin birth, and once activated, this ability is inherited by subsequent generations of females.

Scientists have managed to induce virgin birth in an animal that usually reproduces sexually: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Once induced in this fruit fly, this ability is passed on through the generations: the offspring can reproduce either sexually if there are males around, or by virgin birth if there aren’t.

For most animals, reproduction is sexual – it involves a female’s egg being fertilized by a male’s sperm. Virgin birth, or ‘parthenogenesis’, is the process by which an egg develops into an embryo without fertilization by sperm – a male is not needed.

The offspring of a virgin birth are not exact clones of their mother but are genetically very similar, and are always female.

Fruit Fly Drosophila mercatorum Close Up

Researchers have identified the genes that are switched on, or switched off, when these flies reproduce without fathers. Credit: Jose Casal and Peter Lawrence

“We’re the first to show that you can engineer virgin births to happen in an animal – it was very exciting to see a virgin fly produce an embryo able to develop to adulthood, and then repeat the process,” said Dr Alexis Sperling, a researcher at the University of Cambridge and first author of the paper.

She added: “In our genetically manipulated flies, the females waited to find a male for half their lives – about 40 days – but then gave up and proceeded to have a virgin birth.”

In the experiments, only 1-2% of the second generation of female flies with the ability for virgin birth produced offspring, and this occurred only when there were no male flies around. When males were available, the females mated and reproduced in the normal way.

Switching to a virgin birth can be a survival strategy: a one-off generation of virgin births can help to keep the species going.

Alexis Sperling

Dr. Sperling (at left) in the lab with a student. Credit: University of Cambridge

The study was recently published in the journal Current Biology.

To achieve their results, researchers first sequenced the genomes of two strains of another species of fruit fly, called Drosophila mercatorum. One strain needs males to reproduce, the other reproduces only through virgin birth. They identified the genes that were switched on, or switched off, when the flies were reproducing without fathers.

With the candidate genes for virgin birth ability identified in Drosophila mercatorum, the researchers altered what they thought were the corresponding genes in the model fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. It worked: Drosophila melanogaster suddenly acquired the ability for virgin birth.

The research involved over 220,000 virgin fruit flies and took six years to complete.

Fruit Fly Drosophila mercatorum on Leaf

One strain of this fly reproduces only through virgin birth. Credit: Jose Casal and Peter Lawrence

Key to the discovery was the fact that this work was done in Drosophila melanogaster – the researchers say it would have been incredibly difficult in any other animal. This fly has been the ‘model organism’ for research in genetics for over 100 years and its genes are very well understood.

Sperling, who carried out this work in the Department of Genetics, has recently moved to Cambridge Crop Science Centre to work on crop pests and hopes to eventually investigate why virgin birth in insects may be becoming more common, particularly in pest species.

“If there’s continued selection pressure for virgin births in insect pests, which there seems to be, it will eventually lead to them reproducing only in this way. It could become a real problem for agriculture because females produce only females, so their ability to spread doubles,” said Sperling.

The females of some egg-laying animals – including birds, lizards, and snakes, can switch naturally to give birth without males. But virgin birth in animals that normally sexually reproduce is rare, often only observed in zoo animals, and usually happens when the female has been isolated for a long time and has little hope of finding a mate.

Reference: “A genetic basis for facultative parthenogenesis in Drosophila” by Alexis L. Sperling, Daniel K. Fabian, Erik Garrison and David M. Glover, 28 July 2023, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.07.006

The study was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

38 Comments on "Scientists Discover Genetic Secret of Virgin Birth"

  1. Figures two women are behind this. I guess us men are no longer needed.

  2. I find research and new discoveries fascinating, but do we really need more fruit flies! I get that there’s a means to an end, but I feel there’s better uses for research funding and grants in this world. Every day I see abominable mistreatment of humanity and read that there’s no money available for necessities that really matters; I then I read an article such as this and it just smacks of wastefulness.

  3. So ‘Jesus’ was really ‘Jessica’?

    • Hahahaha… Good one. Yeah, and Jessica was a mutant.

    • Columbian Red Tail Boa – rare WW chromosome that is then passed on to 8 in 10 of the “virgin’s” offspring. I’m sure there are many other examples as well. This is far from new science

  4. Science has known how to do parthenogenesis in many species for a long time. Did you check ?

  5. Fla. has experimented on release of sterile male mosquitoes to cut down mosquito populations. I suggest you open the link below and read the experiment done years ago to see that this is not mere a one time experiment. Read it through to the end and then think what is happening worldwide now.

  6. Please cite the artist of the virgin Mary + baby Jesus artwork you used in this article?

  7. Reading The Heck’s comment, one wonders where he or she has been for the last three years. With the the rest of the fruit flies?

  8. Virgin birth? Really? Since this is a scientific article, how about using the correct term, asexual reproduction?!


  9. Virgin birth? Really? Since this is a scientific article, how about using the correct scientific term — asexual reproduction?!


  10. Sooo, Do hymens still have to be intact to qualify, or, just “not having known a man”?

    • Hummmmm… do virgin fruit flies even have hymens? Seems like that topic would make a far more interesting article.

  11. So, this is how wonder women came to be….

  12. Fascinating! But ah not surprised both researchers are females.

  13. How you can even put Jesus and Mary in this headline with fruit flies is shameful and disrespectful! Christianity is the only religion allowed to be talked about or disrespected! Thank God, he’s a forgiving God!

  14. Stephen Svetlovics | August 10, 2023 at 12:58 am | Reply

    While this is no doubt, very cool and interesting, I would need to know how sexual reproduction occurs in that species. Is it one X from the female and an X or Y donated from the male? To relate it to human virgin birth as the picture seems to imply, I need a lot more details. The epigenetic markers say, or the difference in embryo development in a laid egg compared to a living carried fetus. It’s cool, but I don’t think it’s really that relatable.

  15. They have NOT figured out the Secret of the Virgin birth. The Virgin birth was supernatural.
    Science can’t even create from nothing, they only pervert what already exist.

    • Just because these idiots found that an insect has the possibility of a sexual reproduction. Doesn’t mean we can or ever have. Our scientist are obviously getting stupider by the minute. Only God can do those things. And if it’s not in the Bible. Then it didn’t happen. Period. Everything in the book is coming to pass. And no amount of intelligence or science can prepare anyone for it. Or do anything about it. So if you’re not right with God soon, well you know. God bless

  16. Good study but obviously the reporter does not know the scriptures. What the New Testament is describing as a virgin birth is more in vitro insemination than the birth of a child without any male sperm. The New Testament suggest that Mary was a virgin, meaning that she never had sexual
    intercourse prior to becoming pregnant, not that she produced a child without male sperm. Today we see many single women or lesbians who have never had sex with a man and who go through in
    vitro insemination. This is the type of virgin birth the scriptures are talking about. The reason in vitro insemination does not come to mind to most people is that they assume God to be a non-corporeal being.

    • Eternaldawg, thank you for your non-dismissive, original or rarely previously elucidated thoughts/theory regarding the virgin birth. I cannot say yet that I definitively agree, however the dearth of harmless bold speculation on internet comment boards causes yours to stand out in stark relief, and to read a thing that sets the gears of my own mind turning is one of life’s purest pleasures.

  17. There is a big difference between causing virgin birth in fruit flies and explaining it in a human. Long way to go yet!

  18. Fruit flies reproducing has nothing to do with the Virgin birth by Mary of Jesus Christ. The depiction of the mother and child at the start of the article is not only misleading but totally reprehensible to those of Christian faith. There is no virgin birth in insects. Or animals for that matter. The miracle was the birth of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit , not a father. Making Jesus Christ fully God and fully Man. The only one who could be our Savior.

  19. The answer to the question of “Can people really be this stupid?” is always, yes!

  20. Addressing science as a whole: this instinct to couch each and every advance or discovery as some piledriver/DDT/People’s Elbow to religion and its hypnotized participants is frankly beginning to (and considering the matter more critically, has for many years already) come off as desperate, petty, vindictive and a sort of ‘riding of the (metaphorical) nuts’ of religion. Also, by accepting and eagerly engaging in this bogus David VS. Goliath dichotomy of science VS. religion, you subscribe to the notion that religion is the big bad boy on campus to who you will eternally lose if you dare challenge him directly. And this poor (but right!) beleaguered science act is easily exposed by pointing to the stupendous number of scientists paid by – and the scientific methods endlessly used by – corporations, governments and nebulous or blatantly sinister organizations for nefarious activities. How many official religious zealots do the companies forming the S&P500 employ? How many scientists work at Dow Chemical, which company suffocated thousands of innocent sleeping Indian citizens when their chlorine factory really let a big one rip? Let’s not forget everyone’s favorite gluey ordinance, napalm, which I’ll hypothesize scientists from the same company invented, and not some secret Dow division of untrained Catholic Church pastors who went broken arrow on management. The one never stale line (ha!) about ‘all the deaths and suffering caused by religion, rather than noble science, is *blank*’. Well peacenik Oppenheimer wasn’t skittering around in some Vatican basement, and the Japanese, Germans, not to mention Union and Confederacy, had their own legions of scientists, and gazing pastward to the catapults, Greek fire, biological warfare and poisoning of waterholes (with scientific chemicals!) of yesteryear, cool and indifferent science can be placed wrist deep in many a bloodbath with a surprising lack of mental gymnastics required. Basically, the act is getting old, give me a break, and btw aesexual reproduction of 1 species of fly of strictly the incorrect gender via extreme forced circumstances for 1 generation followed by a 2% success rate in the next, I admit I am only hypothesizing, has made 0 human beings spring from their seat in feverish excitement and shout to their loved one in the next room “Mary! Tarnations, they done did it! They cracked that thur Jesus mystery to my complete n’ total, rootin’-tootin’ satisfaction upon careful scrutiny!!!!”

  21. “6 years of my life, irreplaceable and priceless, with the end result of my efforts being – I must now admit – a few hundred unbearably irritable female fruit flies who unfailingly chose voluntary community extinction over aesexually securing a future for, so far as they knew, their entire species, within the limit of the lifespan of a single generation! How could I have ever seen this coming???? Wait, it’s what I specifically set out to accomplish in my thesis 6 years ago! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

  22. It’s blasphemous and disrespectful to compare your fly experiment to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. A male was involved in the making of Christ, Not a human male. God was and IS his Father, he gave him the Y chromosome that ONLY a male can contribute. All of this abomination to make people doubt God. We are in the last days. If you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior repent and believe. End time prophecy is rapidly being fulfilled. The gospel is 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Hurry up, your next breath is not guaranteed.

  23. Ha Ha Ha I love this FAKE NEWS as they contradic theselves as you read. This news are never backed with scientific papers or additional evidence and the are the sole sciencefiction of “ need to make a living” scientist. By the way , do we need fruit flies “agriculture “ for some purpose?

  24. You know that the article’s title was very misleading, don’t you? Of course you do. Ppl with little science in their education wouldn’t know if this ‘breakthrough’ translated to future research on humans,or what.

  25. Dr.Peter Emejuru | August 14, 2023 at 4:36 am | Reply

    This academic and research page is very educating, inspiring and epic.

  26. Although this experiment is an understatement of the virgin birth, I don’t already think science and religion cannot figuratively mix sometimes. Great article.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.