Monday, January 5, 2009

The Virgin Mary is a MAN, Baby!

In The Guardian, geneticist Aarathi Prasad contemplates a scientific explanation for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ: Mary was genetically male.

Prasad gives a layman's explanation of "testicular feminisation" (more often refered to these days as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), a condition by which a fetus is born with an X and Y chromosome, but carries a mutation that makes the body insensitive to testosterone -- ergo, the fetus develops as a woman with a man's genetic make-up. Most women with this condition (about 1 in 13,000 births these days) are sterile, but Prasad lays out a series of unlikely mutations and events by which Hypothetical Male Mary could have a child without doing the deed.

In fact, the author believes that virgin births may be the wave of the future:

Zoologists have long known that there are many species that can reproduce without sex, and have now started to discover that it can also happen in the most unexpected places. In the last five years the list of virgin mothers has expanded to include a python, hammerhead sharks, blacktip sharks, and Komodo dragons. As the British zookeeper who discovered virgin births in Komodos put it, rather like buses, you wait ages and then loads of them come along all at once...
Similar things are now happening in the laboratory, with scientists creating healthy, fertile mice with no fathers. The fact that they were able to make such animals means that we can now get over the genetic barriers to a mammalian virgin birth – in mice at least. Who knows, one day a virgin birth in humans may not be so implausible after all.

I admit, I enjoy this variety of far-fetched speculative science/theology. While Prasad isn't the first person to suggest that Mother Mary was making like a Komodo Dragon, this is definitely the most elaborate hypothesis I've seen.

Photo: drag queen Mimi Imfurst, via Time Out New York.

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