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PARTHENOGENESIS

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PARTHENOGENESIS

Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Mar 08, 2007 12:02 am

• parthenogenesis •

Pronunciation: pah(r)-thê-nê-je-nê-sis • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Reproduction in certain plant and insect species without fertilization, asexual reproduction. 2. Virgin birth, conception without sexual relations.

Notes: This Good Word has a healthy extended family. The adjective is parthenogenetic which becomes an adverb by simply adding -ly. A parthenote is an individual produced by parthenogenesis. The April 15, 1996 Chattanooga (Tennessee) Free Press noted that "Parthenolatry [pah(r)-thê-nah-lê-tri] is the worship of virgin women. You don't hear it much." No, there isn't much use for that word these days.

In Play: Here is a good 6-syllable word to use when you need to say "virgin birth" but only want very well-read people to understand you: "Warren accepts all the tenets of Christianity except parthenogenesis." There are secular, non-botanical applications for this word, though: "Given the men I have had relationships with so far in my life, I wish parthenogenesis were a more viable alternative to marriage."

Word History: Parthenogenesis is a Greek compound made up of parthenos "virgin" + genesis "beginning, birth". No one is quite sure where parthenos comes from, though we do find it in Parthenon, the name of Athena's temple in Athens. Athena was an unmarried Greek goddess, the protector of Athens. Genesis is, of course, the name of the first book of the Old Testament in which the beginning of the Earth is depicted. The root, gen- originally meant "to give birth". It is found in scads of English words like genetic, generate, and gent "of noble birth", found in gentle and gentleman. The root came directly to English through its Germanic ancestry as kin and kind. (Today we thank Eric Berntson, a genuinely ingenious gentleman of many words, for bringing this one to our attention.)
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Postby bnjtokyo » Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:25 am

According to this story, there have been several cases of parthenogenesis in Komodo Dragons in zoos in the UK. Most recently, a parthenogeneticly produced egg hatched around Christmas last year. The off-spring are always male.

And Merry Christmas to you too.
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Postby gailr » Fri Mar 09, 2007 12:40 am

bnjtokyo wrote:The off-spring are always male.

That depends on the critter. In mammals (the f=XX / m=XY) parthenogenic offspring are female, mythology notwithstanding.

In general, for insects (f=XX / m=X0) male offspring result if the male contribution is, for the purpose of this forum, "ungendered". Depending on the species, there are built-in population controls with viable and "default" offspring.

Among birds, amphibians, reptiles (f=ZW / m=ZZ) you've got a different situation since the female chromosomes are different. (The genetic manipulation of commercial turkeys actually interferes with natural mating; there's a very high rate of parthenogenesis.) Among the komodo dragons you're referencing, viable parthenogenic offspring are male; however, the same female can swing the other way to produce future (female) offspring.

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Postby bnjtokyo » Fri Mar 09, 2007 1:32 am

I admit my comment is ambiguous, but my "always male" note was meant to refer to the parthenogenic offspring of Komodo Dragons only, although gailr seems to disagree.
Since I have no expertize in the matter, I was relying on statements made in the article I attempted to link to. (I now see the link doesn't work. The article is a BBC News article dated 20 December 2006 and entitled "'Virgin births' for giant lizards.")

The article paraphrases Richard Gibsons, a curator at the Zoological Society of London, as saying, "Because of the genetics of this process, he added, her children would always be male."

Anyway, I apologize for the imprecision in my orginal comment concerning the sex of parthenogenic offspring.

And once again, Merry Christmas
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Postby gailr » Fri Mar 09, 2007 10:49 pm

I figured you were referring to the Komodo Dragons, bjn. The comment struck me because I was first taught that parthenogenesis "always" results in genetically identical daughter organisms. Later classes covered other possibilities.

I think it's interesting that genetic "alphabets" can be combined and recombined to produce such variety and adaptability, much like linguistic alphabets.

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