EVERY Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Mary’s announced virginal conception. To believers, Jesus’ birth is a mystery. To skeptics, it is a legend. But to certain scientists, it was possibly a unique case of a successful parthenogenesis.

“Parthenogenesis” or unisexual reproduction occurs in most animal groups, including animals that normally produce male and female sexes like lizards, turkeys, and chickens. In mammals, like human beings, a number of spontaneous pregnancies occur only up to the sixth week of conception. There is no scientifically documented case yet of a “virgin birth,” or a virginal conception that succeeded to full term. The embryo usually lacks the viability for further development.

“The parthenogenetic embryos are not viable because in order to have a successful pregnancy, you should have the complete set of chromosomes,” says Alicia Pagulayan, Biology professor at the UST College of Science. “Half of your chromosomes come from your mother while the other half comes from your father.”

Parthenogenesis happens when cell division that normally follow spermal stimuli spontaneously occur in an unfertilized egg, which would attach to the fallopian tube or the uterus after an ovulation. It can also result from an ovarian tumor called polyembryoma. At least nine cases of human polyembryonic pregnancies have been medically documented. Physical or chemical contaminating agents can also be factors.

Experiments have been successful in artificially inducing parthenogenesis through acid treatments, temperature shock, and pricking of an egg with a needle. But whether artificial or natural, parthenogenetic pregnancies can only yield female embryos, since a Y-bearing sperm is necessary to produce a male baby.

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Still, some scientists offer possibilities of producing a male, but not without controversy.

Parthenogenesis of a male baby

Dr. Sam Berry, professor of genetics at the University College of London, believes that virginal conception of a male child can occur in a condition called “intersex.”

In The Science of the Virgin Birth, Berry stated that it is possible that Mary was male but suffered a genetic mutation that had the effect of preventing target cells in her body from recognizing her testosterone. As a result, Mary would be chromosomally XY or male, but appeared (phenotypically) as female.

As the case goes, Mary was supposed to be sterile and lacking a woman’s uterus. But Berry points out that the differentiation of the sex organs can be variable, that it is possible to develop an ovary and a uterus; and being an XY, to bear another male.

“If the ovum developed parthogenetically, and if a back-mutation to testosterone sensitivity took place, we would have an apparently normal woman giving birth to a son without intercourse,” Berry wrote. “These mechanisms are unlikely, (but they) reduce the assumption of incredibility that dog the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Edward Kessel, professor of Biology in the University of San Francisco, offers “A Proposed Biological Interpretation of the Virgin Birth”, published in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.

According to Kessel, it may be Jesus who was chromosomally female but phenotypically male. His mother may be a carrier of the histocompatibility-Y factor (H-Y factor) that could make the female Jesus, lacking the Y chromosome, to undergo sex reversal in the womb and appear as male. But Kessel was quick to point out that Jesus’ androgynity was neither a case of bisexuality nor hermaphrodism (having two sexual organs).

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“Jesus was androgynous in the unique way of being chromosomally female and phenotypically male, was completely sex-reversed and without the physical or psychological imperfections, the perfect human being,” he said.

But Pagulayan told the Varsitarian that the case could not be possible, even with abnormal chromosomal sets.

“Yes, we have abnormal chromosomal sets like XXY, but the implication would be that Jesus was abnormal,” Pagulayan said. “If that was the case, he should have exhibited morphological expressions that would have manifested phenotypically.”

But a different theory came from Dr. Leoncio Garcia-Valdes, after analyzing the Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus, which blood samples yielded XY chromosomes—the chromosomes of a normal male baby.

An archeologist from Texas, Valdes is famous for his discovery of organic bioplastic coating created over time in ancient textiles, which debunks carbon dating results used to inauthenticate the Shroud of Turin. As a pediatrician, he also experienced handling a thirteen-year old patient who was parthenogenetically pregnant. Valdes used the Shroud of Turin to make a case.

“Our findings about the chromosomal make-up on the Shroud were not evidence of sexual activity on the part of the Virgin Mary,” he said. Jesus was a normal male baby considering the Shroud imprints, but Valdes does not cancel the possibility of parthenogenesis.

“When a mixed germ cell ovarian tumor contains both a polyembryoma and a gonadoblastoma (cancer cells), the embryoids may have XY chromosomes, that is, male embryoids in a virgin patient,” he said. There hasn’t been any record yet of a successful parthenogenetic pregnancy of a male baby. Jesus’ birth was a truly extraordinary event if indeed he was the result of parthenogenesis. Science, however, has not chipped any of Valdes’ faith.

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“I believe in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, even if medicine is able to explain some strange cases of parthenogenetic pregnancies,” he said. With reports from Reagan D. Tan, the American Scientific Affiliation, www.telegraph.co.uk, Leoncio Garza-Valdes’ “The DNA of God?,” and Time Magazine.

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