Birth of a new age – in the Irish Examiner

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Science is rewriting the rules for how babies are conceived and born, writes Áilín Quinlan.

IMAGINE a world where a ‘solo parent ’ — male or female — can have a baby alone, where embryos are gestated in artificial wombs and where sex is not required for conception.

This is not a radical vision says British biologist and science writer Aarathi Prasad.

Her new book about technological advances in reproduction challenges everything we take for granted — not just about the relationship between the sexes, but about the formation of family as we know it.

In Like A Virgin; How Science is Re-designing the Rules of Sex, Prasad conceives of a world where the ultimate solo parent is a woman who needs nothing but her own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to produce eggs and sperm — no male input required.

Or she might use two of her eggs to create a child, using advanced technology to convert one of the eggs into a pseudo-sperm in order to fertilise herself — it’s already been done with mice in Japan.

And should an artificial human womb become a reality — one has already been created for sharks — such a woman might forego pregnancy, allowing scientists to set the ideal conditions for her foetus’s development and continue working just like a father-to-be, until her baby is born.

Prasad is unfazed — such technology would, she says, “be the great biological and social equaliser, a truly new way of thinking about sex. The question is not if it will happen, but when,” she says, pointing out the same scientific advances could also allow men to make eggs and sperm from their stem cells — and gay couples to create children from both their DNA.

“Scientifically, IVF is already circumventing sex. It’s not revolutionary,” she insists.

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