‘In fact, despite the theoretical drawbacks of sex as a means of replication, the gametes that have evolved primarily as a means of mixing genes have also, many times, re-evolved as an apparatus for a-sexual reproduction. Often, indeed, the egg simply begins to devlop into a new individual without fertilisation by a sperm. This form of cloning is called parthenogenesis  (from the Greek ‘parthenos’ meaning virgin; hence ‘virgin birth’…Parthogenesis is rare among verterbrates but by no means unknown. Some lizards reproduce parthenogenetically – beginning, like dandelions, with the diploid oocyte so that they are all diploid – and some indeed have abandoned sex altogether. Some fish can also reproduce parthenogenetially. Modern breeders are able to induce fish such as salmon to reproduce parthenogenetically; and parthenogenesis has even been reported in domestic turkeys.  In mammals, however, parthenogenesis seems to be a non-starter… The extreme feminist dream of all-female reproduction does not seem to be possible by parthenogenesis – although some version of it might be achieved by other means (that is, by variations on a theme of cloning by nuclear transfer)…However, parthenogenesis might be achieved in the future if biologists learn how to convert a maternally imprinted genome into a paternally inherited genome or vice-versa. No one is even close to this but there is no present reason to doubt that it is possible.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

The salmon leaps cleanly to the stars

The salmon leaps cleanly to the stars;

foiled flank flashing - scalpeling free

of neurotic sea face. Masai muscle-fish -

silver water-bird of a suspended moment;

warrior sword, rainbow hilt, cutlassing sky.

Pink light bleeds from injured gold, purple

cloud-swabs sponging, annointing him in rose.

Then gravity’s Excalibur, pulled from heaven -

organic meteor. Fire-fish; falling shooting star -

suicidal plunge; supple silver bomb crashing to

healed water - bloody metal gauntlet - fist

shattering polished skin into twitchy shine;

explosive cuff of splattered white light -

water shrapnel; smashing wet molecules

into dislocated splash, chaotic salt bundles.

Until a blinding mercury peace – blinking -

then sealed, unopened;

as if never ever opened.

To his delicious pink insides,

unlikely flush of cold blood,

he returns, wild-eyed, insane;

remembering the uncaged fin,

screaming light beyond blue filter -

dim translation of light here below; 

Everest spawning ground

bred - rivetted in his head.

‘A young  woman of the future could go to her gynaecologist, extract thousands of eggs through a simple ovarian biopsy, and freeze and bank them. Later, the eggs could be thawed and matured in a laboratory, fertilised with her partner’s sperm and implanted into her womb. Given the state of current research in this realm, such a scenario could be feasible within a couple of decades and would transform human reproduction. It would not only allow women to control the timing of their pregnancies and guard against the reduced fertility that plagues them as they move into their late thirties.’ Gregory Stock, Director, Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society, UCLA’s School of Medicine, US

‘Parthenogenesis invariably involves eggs, not sperm, for sperm are highly reduced cells – just a bag of DNA with a tail for mobility – and they do not have the wherewithal to develop into new embrypos…The egg simply begins to develop into a new individual without fertilisation by a sperm, from the Greek ‘parthenos’ meaning virgin.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, ‘The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

If parthenogenesis was possible next week

If parthenogenesis was possible next week,

how many women would still get married –

all those having to look after him as well

as the children - why would they bother?

Just as the church seems in decay because all those

who went just because it was expected socially, had

to, have fallen away in changed times - and eventually,

all that will be left are those who go because they want

to, and maybe church people will reflect the message better -

then all those left in marriage will be those fortunate women

who have found some good man to love, to be loved

by - and love will be the only motive, as it should be.


If parthenogenesis became possible next week -

would men become afraid of women; becoming

like VHS to DVD - obselete, quaint as a Top Hat -

from another era. And would women take revenge,

not treat them as equal, but property, sex objects;

or would the sufferings of women further civilise.


If parthenogenesis became possible next week -

would women feel the Earth move within them;

stars give up their holy dust - in trust, plotting -

until each life begins, unscrolling ancient maps.

Would women touch the fern and mollusk, as sister,

brother - in some rediscovered profound connection.

‘…although sedentary creatures like mussels and oak trees are content to scatter their gametes (often only the male gametes) to the tides of the winds, creatures that are not sedentary, including snails and bees, sheep, and human beings, must actively seek out their mates. Mating is an extremely tense, difficult, time-consuming, and often very dangerous pursuit: ask any male spider or mantis, risking death by cannabilism, or any stag or lion or elephant bull, risking death by mauling by the antlers, teeth, and sheer bulk of rivals (and vide all literature). Yet reproduction by sex is innately inefficient, for we cannot escape the arithmetic: two cells fuse to become one. For creatures who generally produce only one offspring at a time, like human beings, orang utans and giant pandas, this means that two entire individuals must put their lives at risk just to produce one offspring between them. It is only because we are such human chauvinists, and think that what we do is by definition the ‘norm’, that we fail to find this odd. It took a great biologists – John Maynard Smith – to point out that if a human being, or a whale, or a codfish, or oak tree ever evolved that could produce asexually, without needing a mate, then that creature would soon overwhelm its sexual rivals. Head for head, such a lineage would leave twice as many offspring.’ So what exactly is a clone?, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

In such genetic union

In such genetic union is love bound -

written, recorded, imprisoned forever.

Specific love encapsulated in a child

can never be undone – or dismantled.

Each child is a living, holy vessel,

keeping God’s original love warm.

Each child is the poem of the parents -

speaking their love aloud to the world.

‘All eukaryotes must at one time have been sexual – it is impossble to see how they could have evolved otherwise – but many have abandoned sex altogether…Protozoans, like Amoeba, practise binary fission. Seaweeds and fungi generally reproduce sexually by spores but many fungi also reproduce simply by spreading their hyphae (filaments), and also by producing asexual spores: spores produced without the preliminary benefit of cell fusion. There are many fungi (quaintly known as fungi imperfecti) in which sexual reproduction has never been observed. Most plants, too, are both sexual and asexual: mosses and ferns spread asexually and also produce sexual spores; flowering plants reproduce by seeds but also clone themselves asexually, while gardeners clone many garden plants by cuttings. Many animals reproduce asexually as well, at least some of the time: corals, many insects, and a range of vertebrates including some fish and lizards and even, under artificial conditions, some birds. All animals must be descended from sexually reproducing forms, but… some have abandoned sex altogether.’ So what exactly is a clone?, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Homo Fungi Imperfecti

‘All animals must be descended from sexually reproducing forms, but… some have abandoned sex altogether’ The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

They’ve got a point, these fungi imperfecti,

Never bothering about sex, feeling sexy -

Given the number of homo fungi imperfecti around -

With mushroom bellies, white lard by the pound.

And all these mammals who’ve tried it for size,

Before they begin to realise -

All the hassle and gasping, embarrassing noise,

Complete and utter loss of poise -

All that physical and emotional mess,

Is more than enough to totally depress;

How much less anxiety, loss of self esteem,

For any woman over size ten who has ever been,

To let that old biological clock run down,

But keep going out on the town -

Who cares if you’re in your Thirties, all alone,

There would be no more sitting by the ‘phone,

Being forced to put up with some atrocious bore,

Just because he makes sperm and nothing more -

C’mon even flowers have worked it out,

Do the scientists have to shout -

You’d no longer have to be a martyr,

If unable to find the perfect partner;

Not even have to share your premises,

If you had access to Parthenogenesis -

Discovered the joy of asexual reproduction -

Instead of a bloke whose chief aim is suction;

Could make your babies whenever you wanted,

Without a willie that always needs prompted -

And there’s no need to get rid of partners altogether -

He could serve the snacks while the girls blether!

Keep him in the spare room, where he stashes his mags -

Always useful to have someone to take out the bin bags.

Penis Envy is a dreadful conceit

Penis Envy is a dreadful conceit.

That saggy pink parsnip sat atop

a droopy, wrinkly pair of hairy plums,

slung in a puckered turkey-skin bag -

what woman would give the horrible

thing room between her legs, except

against all appearances, it unexpectedly

causes pleasure; fits like the perfect key

in a snug lock - is the only convenient

source of baby-seed on tap; and cheap.

Unlikely, ugly organ - which looks as if

designed to be kept politely folded inside

the body if you ask me; no wonder they

clutch, cover as if the real crown jewels.

What woman would want it for herself?

even keep it for emergencies on a shelf,

this bald sausage; sprinkler, widdler -

tunnel-hunter; truffling blind snuffler.

This psychopath, this savage -

what woman would swap for it

the wonder-womb - the baby-maker -

magic cradle; capacity for life, power

for making babies - new people

in her very own personal space?

Whoever thought of Penis Envy

as likely theory needs their head

examined. Frustrated, empty, reliant;

jealous, aggressive, or expected to be

so macho, competitive, stag-brained -

it is men that must so envy the womb.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
    Some Special Genes
    X & Y
        Y Chromosome
        SRY Gene – Master Switch
        Sex Wars
        X Chromosome
        Some notes on the
        Gender of Science

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