LONDON, April 28, 2008— -- Imagine a world without men: Lauren Bacall but no Bogie, Hillary Clinton but no Bill, no Starsky or Hutch.
This isn't just an unlikely sci-fi scenario. This could be reality, according to Bryan Sykes, an eminent professor of genetics at Oxford University and author of "Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men."
"The Y chromosome is deteriorating and will, in my belief, disappear," Sykes told me. A world-renowned authority on genetic material, Sykes is called upon to investigate DNA evidence from crime scenes. His team of researchers is currently compiling a DNA family tree for our species.
The Y chromosome is passed from father to son, it's what makes babies into boys. Basically the human template is a female: the Y chromosome kicks in a few weeks after conception and makes a boy. "Men are genetically modified women," explained Sykes. But unlike other chromosomes, the Y chromosome can't repair itself and will, says Sykes, disappear altogether in about 125,000 years.
"Every generation one percent of men will have a mutation which reduces their fertility by 10 percent," explained Sykes. Unlike most chromosomes, the Y does not travel through the generation in pairs, so can never repair itself from a mirror. Flaws are never repaired. "So if that goes on for generation after generation," Sykes argued, "eventually there are no functioning Y chromosomes left."
So no more men … sparsely populated sports bars, Ferrari would lose the lion's share of its business, and Hooters would probably go out of business.
It's a long time, 125,000 years. But we men have a far more immediate problem: sperm counts have fallen by an incredible 20 percent in the past 50 years. Stress? Alcohol? Environmental pollution? Who knows, but it's deeply concerning for those of us with a vested interest in the survival of the male.
Sykes has received hate mail.
"To seem to be saying that men will become extinct, which is what I am saying," he mused. "I've had all kinds of messages from male groups saying, 'how can you betray your gender?'"
But would the absence of men make the world a better place? There would be far fewer wars without men on the planet, and the U.S. prison population would drop a colossal 97 percent. Road deaths in the U.S. would fall 70 percent. The Olympics would be half as long, which some people might view as a good thing.
But surely, flawed Y chromosome or not, bad behavior or not, we are needed for procreation. Women can't have babies without us … right? I'm afraid, pretty soon they won't need our sperm, our chromosomes, our anything.
Until now, female-only reproduction has been limited to the plant and animal kingdom. So-called parthenogenesis, observed in the Cape Honey Bee, the Kimono Dragon and the hammerhead shark. In humans: confined to 1950s B movies. But Sykes says the technology for women to procreate without us is just around the corner.
"Within the next few years you will get two women having a child who is the biological child of both of them," Sykes said. "And entirely normal in every respect, but always female."