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What science fiction of the twentieth century was right and not about the future of babies


Science fiction writers have imagined almost every aspect of life in some distant future, including how humans will reproduce. And usually, his views included a backlash against those who manipulate mother nature.

In his 1923 speculative fiction stab, for example, British biologist JBS Haldane said that while those who push the wrapper in the physical sciences are generally compared to Prometheus, who incurred the wrath of the gods, those who mess with biology run the risk of shaking something. much more pointed: the wrath of his fellow man. "If every physical or chemical invention is a blasphemy," he wrote in Daedalus, or Science and the Future, "every biological invention is a perversion."

Some of Haldane's projections were remarkably specific. He wrote, for example, that the world’s first “ectogenic babies” would be born in 1951. These lab babies would emerge when two fictional scientists, “Dupont and Schwarz,” acquired a fresh ovary from a woman who dies in a plane crash. Over the next five years, the ovary produces viable eggs, which the team extracts and fertilizes regularly.

Finally, Haldane writes, Dupont and Schwarz solve the problem of "embryo nutrition and support." Soon lab-grown babies become routines, as scientists learn to remove an ovary from any living woman, keep it in the lab for up to 20 years, extract a new egg each month, pick up a sperm (from where, you never say), and successfully fertilize 90 percent of the eggs. So – and here the details are murky – the embryos "are successfully cultured for nine months and then released into the air."

JBS Haldane, a British biologist, wrote in the 1920s about the possibility of babies being conceived and conceived in laboratories outside the womb.Mirrorpix / Getty Images

In Haldane's imaginary future, 60,000 babies a year "go on the air" in France, the first country to adopt the new technology in 1968. At some later date, he wrote, ectogenic babies become international and become more common than natural births. , with only 30 percent of children "born of women."

Haldane was wrong to set aside the human uterus of these reproductive machinations. But he wasn’t wrong about scientists ’eventual ability to remove a living woman’s ovary and keep it in the lab as a source of eggs for a long time. This was first reported in 2001, when fertility doctor Kutluk Oktay, then at Weill Medical College at Cornell University, reported freezing strips of ovarian tissue taken from women who needed or wanted to delay procreation. When the woman is ready for pregnancy, return to the lab to thaw the ovarian tissue and return to the ovary. If all goes well, the implant, in a few months, will resume hormone secretion normally again, which will lead the revived ovary to mature again and release eggs in a regular cycle. Today, babies born after cryopreservation of ovarian tissue are hundreds. (And babies born with all forms of assisted reproductive technology are millions.)

British writer Aldous Huxley was also concerned about laboratory-made babies as a gateway to the future, if any, towards totalitarian dystopia. (Haldane devoted relatively little time to the social implications of ectogenesis.) Artificial reproduction was the heart of his 1932 novel Brave New World. Carefully selected eggs and sperm were mixed in glass plates and grown in an artificial uterus, where they could be cultured with nutrients to raise a smart, healthy upper shell or with poisons to create a lower class of not fully human servants.

Huxley himself was curious about the accuracy of his prophecies. So in 1958, he took another look at Brave New World Revisited. It was still two decades before the birth of the world's first "test tube baby" in his native England, which could explain why Huxley, who was living in California at the time, seemed to think he didn't have the mark on his original screening of endless rows. of fake uteri in the baby manufacturing lab. “Bottled babies and centralized control of reproduction may not be impossible,” he acknowledged, but they certainly weren’t just around the corner. He added that "it is quite clear that for a long time we will continue to be a viviparous species that reproduces at random."

image of Aldous HuxleyBritish writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, envisioned a dystopian future in which the traits and social condition of people before birth are determined.Edward Gooch / Getty Images Collection

Yes, even more than 60 years after Huxley wrote those words, humans still believed mostly viviparously, that is, in the living birth of a mother's body, and mostly "at random." However, assisted reproductive technology has become commonplace, in a way that neither Huxley nor Haldane could predict. Nor did they really point to the emergence, within this same amazing century, of a technique like CRISPR, with the potential to change the genetic code of an embryo as easily as making changes to a Word document.

In this regard, writers of a much more recent era, such as those who wrote the screenplay for the 1997 film Gattaca, were in a better position to do science basically right, predicting a sad future in which, as film critic Roger Ebert wrote in its review, embryo genetic engineering becomes as boring as a kind of “preventive plastic surgery”.

However, by 1923, Haldane was able to offer an unusually provocative prediction: "We can already alter animal species to a huge extent, and it seems only a matter of time before we are able to apply the same principles to ours."

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