parthenogenesis (pärˌthənōjĕnˈəsĭs) [key] [Gr., = virgin birth], in biology, a form of reproduction in which the ovum develops into a new individual without fertilization. Natural parthenogenesis has been observed in many lower animals (it is characteristic of the rotifers), especially insects, e.g., the aphid. In many social insects, such as the honeybee and the ant, the unfertilized eggs give rise to the male drones and the fertilized eggs to the female workers and queens. Parthenogenesis has also been observed in some snakes, fish, and monitor lizards. The phenomenon is rarer among plants (where it is called parthenocarpy) than among animals. Unusual patterns of heredity can occur in parthenogenetic organisms. For example, offspring produced by some types are identical in all inherited respects to the mother.

The phenomenon of parthenogenesis was discovered in the 18th cent. by Charles Bonnet. In 1900, Jacques Loeb accomplished the first clear case of artificial parthenogenesis when he pricked unfertilized frog eggs with a needle and found that in some cases normal embryonic development ensued. Artificial parthenogenesis has since been achieved in almost all major groups of animals, although it usually results in incomplete and abnormal development. Numerous mechanical and chemical agents have been used to stimulate unfertilized eggs. In 1936, Gregory Pincus induced parthenogenesis in mammalian (rabbit) eggs by temperature change and chemical agents. No successful experiments with human parthenogenesis have been reported.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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