Book Review: “Like a Virgin”, by Aarathi Prasad

Virgin Mary and Jesus, old Persian miniature. ...

Virgin Mary and Jesus, old Persian miniature. In Islam, they are called Maryam and Isa.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Modern humans about sorted their contraception, but  the reproductive options are still limited to the variations on the  “egg + sperm = baby”.  The amazon review of Aarthy Prasad’s book has promised that it “delivers an astonishing exploration of the mysteries of sex and evolution past, present, and future” and I was mostly interested in the present research summary and  the blue sky options.

Unexpectedly, I liked the historical account of research into reproductive biology.  It’s interesting to realise how women’s role in reproduction was considered   a passive receptacle of male “vital power” –  a whole embryo had been found by some “scientists” curled up in the sperm head.  At the same time inability to conceive or produce a male heir ( the story of Henry VIII and his 6 wives comes to mind) had been repeatedly blamed on women.

The “present” part of the book is full of truly astonishing  facts about human and animal reproduction biology – I was very impressed by hyenas and a woman who accidentally got pregnant while lacking the vagina. ‘Like a Virgin’ contains the best description of three layers of embryo I’ve ever seen and description of epigenetic programming of placenta development is really fascinating.

But as the book approaches the modern pioneering research, the narrative is flagging, disintegrating into  a patchwork description of different labs’ research in progress and other topics loosely connected to human reproduction in XXI century. It jumps from reproductive materials trafficking  to surrogate agencies in Mumbai, to ovaries transplantation, to solo parents – individuals who choose to have and raise children without   a partner. The true virgin birth in mice described on one page – the field of non-canonical reproduction is simply not mature enough to write a book about.

The question I expected to be covered, which  Dr.Prasad doesn’t ask,  is why do we want to have  a virgin birth?  The explanation proposed is that solo parents will ultimately want  the sole (pun intended) source of genetic material. May be I am not narcissistic enough, but I wouldn’t want to produce a second generation  copy of myself, either through cloning or a virgin birth – one of  the joys of the sexual reproduction is the lottery of similar and new features of the child.

So if you are interested in a collection of amusing facts about reproductive biology,   I recommend you to read the book, but if you interested in the state of art in the field of reproductive biology – try Nature reviews instead. And sorry but I can;’ recommend anything comprehensible about the ethics of human reproduction.

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