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Where do babies come from?

January 21, 2010

Things urgently required before the birth that are still yet to be purchased.

  1. Mattress and sheets for the cot
  2. Wallabies jumper, size 0000, for the passport photo.

Thinking about the baby’s development in the womb, I got pondering on two things.

One is the fascinating transformation of food into energy for the kid, and how this cycle turns, from the plants converting sunlight for energy, to how the plants take up nutrients in the soil – dirt – to convert into stems, bulbs and seeds, which we then eat. I just enjoy the fact that a bit of dirt you kick around in a playground may one day constitute a human in its passage through life.

The other aspect I got thinking about is how the process of creating a child is started. How did the DNA from my partner and myself get put together after the fertilization phase in the fallopian tube? What happens before the embryo stage at 8 weeks. How did the gametes form to create the zygote? And how do your chromosomes and genomes mix? See, I know the important names, just not the process. I must have been asleep during that biology class when I was 14 years old. Or most likely I just wasn’t in the classroom at all. Actually, I probably wasn’t even on the school grounds.

I asked my wife, who is far more intelligent than me. Her reply was “I don’t know, I wasn’t very good at biology.” Which is bullcrap, because she was good at everything.

So I asked the internet.

Ok. Firstly, I asked where do babies come from? Apart from the plethora of sex sites, the first clean site that came up (hence the most popular site according to Google) said: “To make a baby you need a sperm cell and an egg cell. The sperm cell comes from the daddy and the egg cell comes from the mommy. When the sperm and egg meet, they make a tiny baby that is smaller than a grain of salt. The baby grows in the mommy’s tummy for nine months. Then the baby is ready to come out.” Thanks for nothing you non-contributing fool.

Try again. “How does DNA mix in reproduction?” First answer: “when organism reproduce they pass on their genetic information in a molecule member of a species must be able to reproduce or make new organism.” I barely have the energy to even correct the grammar.

So I scroll down for more sites from the search, but get put-off by the third result; The Rights of Unmarried Fathers. The forth result is about Paternity Testing. None of this hopefully I need.

I type in “How does a zygote develop.” The first site has a very rudimentary outline of the different stages of fetal development, i.e the heart starts forming at 18 days. It did mention something that has fascinated me for sometime, which belies explanation: The average pregnancy lasts for 38 weeks from the date you conceive (this is called conception). However, doctors usually date your pregnancy from the first day of your last menstrual period — that is the day your last period started. Using this method a pregnancy is said to last 40 weeks (280 days). I actually asked my wife’s speleologist (as she calls her gynaecologist) why this seemingly inaccurate form of dating is used, and her best answer was “because of convention.” I doubt that any other medical field can be so relaxed with dating. Its as if a product was dated from when the idea for it came, not when it was made. And what happens if you hadn’t had a period for, say, two months?

As always, there is the French exception. Their doctors guess the date of conception as two weeks from the end of the last period.

Anyways, back to finding out where my daughter came from, so to speak.

I type “How does DNA mix in the zygote.” As apposed to the my-monkey-could-have-typed-it answers I have got so far, I am now in the world of peer-reviewed journal articles. I’ll jump.

An article in the Journal of Heredity seems interesting. It’s about mitochondrial DNA, and its dilution in the zygote. Apparently it is well understood in mammals (WHERE!?!), but the article then describes how it happens in the chinook salmon. These are outstanding to eat by-the-way, though there are no recipes provided, which diminishes the article.

Second Google result: The paper presents the first experimental results of studies in which the concept of the probable role of isotopy in the molecular evolution of living systems is developed. I’m not even sure it has anything to do with making babies. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually.

I am obviously in between two words here. The stupid and the smart. I’ll start again: “How are babies formed?” The first result is “How do babies form in stomachs?” Even I know babies are not formed in the stomach. And just to remind me that the Internet is a wealth of practical information, the second result is again a paternity site, so daddy can test if he is bringing up a child that is not his.

If I may at this moment make two observations.

One is that Christian sites on fertility and birth and generally carries the most monstrously wrong information. One even stated that mummy’s DNA and daddy’s DNA mixed by each parent providing half of their DNA helix and then mixing it, as if each half strand could simply join together.

Secondly, there are some slightly sad – read stupid – comments left underneath these articles on foetal development. One lady writes:

“i had sexual intercourse during my period with a condom. Then one day after my period finished i had sexual intercourse with my boyfriend again and the same week one day after that one i had unprotected sex once again, does this mean i might be pregnant?”

The answer is yes, no, maybe.

I got slightly closer from the people at Mayo Clinic, a website designed for hypochondriacs, where your diseases and symptoms are arranged alphabetically. They state:

The zygote has 46 chromosomes — 23 from you and 23 from your partner.

Now I’m getting somewhere. But then is states:

“Most animals and plants have several copies of their chromosomes coming from the male and the female gametes.” Hmmm…well, not quite.

Here’s my attempt to explain conception.

A gamete is simply a cell that fuses with another cell during conception. Science’s definition of a female is simply which individual has the larger gamete. Males always have smaller gametes (sperm).

One male sperm (gamete) enters the female ova (also called a gamete, albeit much larger than a sperm). Each gamete carries half of the parent’s chromosomes (haploid), created through a process called meiosis. Meiosis is simply the division by half of a man or women’s chromosomes.

These two gametes combine, creating a cell with the full complement of chromosomes (a diploid), which means it has enough DNA to create a person; half from the mother, half from the father.  This cell, referred to as the zygote, barrows itself into the wall of the mother’s uterus. Once cell division begins (mitosis), it is called the embryo, which then turns into foetus, and then we make baby.

The sex chromosome in a woman is XX. She will always pass on an X in the gamete. The sex chromosome in a man is XY. If the man passes on an X, it will be a baby girl, since the sex chromosome will be XX in the zygote. Obviously, if he passes on a Y, it’s a boy.

Well, it is pretty simple. Conception and the creation of the embryo is actually pretty easy to understand, once you know which terms to search for and find someone who can write well. And there are not many good science writers out there.

This answer above, however, would probably not even pass a school biology test, and I left out heaps (fructose is required in the vagina as it’s the power source for the sperm as it travels on its way), but its clear to me and I am not going to spoil it with more research. Feel free to point out where I went wrong in the above.

Yet the thing is that not one of my friends – granted none of them are biology teachers – could adequately explain any of this to me.

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