From Mystery to the Modern Science of Reproductive Biology

It is likely that it may have taken as much as 150 million years for human beings to first become aware that there may be some form of connection between the sexual act and the birth of child. It was, however, far more recently that the first glimmerings of understanding regarding the processes of fertilisation, foetal development and parturition were to emerge.

Even in 1677, when Anton van Leeuwenhoek first observed “seminal worms”, it was supposed that these tadpole-like structures contained a preformed human being. As recently as the early 20th century, certain islanders still harboured the belief that the role of seminal fluid was to coagulate menstrual blood, and that this would then allow a baby to develop. Today, of course, any reasonably attentive matric biology student should be more than capable of compiling a fairly informed essay describing the physiology involved in the reproductive process.

Understanding the process was, however, only the first step, and one that, in turn, was inevitably destined to pose many more questions of its own. Among the queries that were to attract particular interest were why some couples appeared unable to have children, and why some expectant mothers tended to experience frequent miscarriages. Studies of subjects in the latter category have since led to a far greater knowledge of the factors that can often give rise to foetal distress and provoke a spontaneous abortion. Given this knowledge, medical researchers have been able to develop various means by which to prevent, or at least to limit the frequency of such incidents, in many cases.

More significant, however, has been the emergence of treatments designed to aid those who are experiencing problems with conception. The development of techniques, first for artificial insemination and later, for in-vitro fertilisation or IVF, has served to extend the scope of the parent science of reproductive biology to include the brand-new discipline we now know as assisted reproduction.

Most will be shocked to learn that the first artificial insemination of a wife with her husband’s sperm was performed in 1790, and that in 1884, a similar procedure was performed, this time, using sperm from a third-party donor. 1944 saw the first successful in-vitro fertilisation of a human ovum and, ten years later, a pregnancy was achieved through artificial insemination using sperm that had been frozen and stored. The pivotal event in this emerging field took place in 1978 with the birth of the first ever “test tube” baby in England – Louise Brown.

Since those pioneering days of the early to mid-20th century, the advances have followed thick and fast. Among the most significant of these has been the development of cryogenic storage that has made the harvesting of both male and female gametes possible, as well as their prolonged storage and transport. Together with the benefit of improved tools for collection and precision handling of samples, reproductive biology is now able to provide the help so long dreamed of by childless couples.

Nevertheless, in-vitro fertilisation remains an exacting process. Fortunately, it is also one that has been made safer and more successful for a growing number of couples in South Africa with the aid of the world-class equipment and reagents, sourced and supplied by the local industry-leader in this discipline – IEPSA.

More Articles

Contact Us:

* Name & Surname:
* Cell / Tel no.:
* E-mail:
Your Message::
* Security Code: