No, it's not infidelity. It's a mischievous genetic game that might make your future children end up looking like your ex.
By Alicia Molina
You broke up with your ex years ago. The relation mattered, but fate worked against you and you've all but forgotten about them. After all these years, after all that therapy with friends and specialists, you're sure you can move on without them. Now you have a new S.O. with whom you might have children. But… what if your child's face couldn't fail but to remind you of that same person you struggled so much to forget? Telegony might be to blame if your future children end up looking like your ex.
Scared? Don't be. It's merely a mischievous game genetics plays on us, and it's been around for many years. A theory that scientists have been trying to test on flies, and named by German biologist August Weissman in the 1800s, telegony claims that when a sperm manages to reach the uterus, it might fertilize immature ovums, after which it is absorbed by the woman's organism. Then, after a new mate arrives, this old genetic code might be responsible for the baby to have some of your ex's features.
With a long tradition that can be traced all the way back to Aristotle, it wasn't until 1820 when the first scientific articulation of telegony was formulated. Some evidence was documented by the Royal Society of London, when Count Morton confirmed two horse offspring had features of the mother's old sexual partner.
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The theory as originally stated fell out of favor by the late 19th century. Several experiments failed to find any further evidence of the phenomenon, and biologists came up with alternative explanations for Morton's mare case through the notions of dominant & recessive variants of a gene. Statistician Karl Pearson also pointed out that if the original theory were true, later children of the same couple should increasingly resemble their father. And that's just not the case.
So, telegony was all but dismissed in the 20th century. However, something happened very recently that turned this whole debate on its head. Evolutionary ecologists A. J. Crean and colleagues reported a seemingly telegonic phenomenon in a fly, a member of the species Telostylinus angusticollis.
"As a first step towards disentangling whether the effect is borne by the sperm itself or by accessory-gland products (ACPs) in the seminal fluid, we mated females initially to a male in high or low condition and then re-mated the female to a new male in high or low condition two weeks later. Interestingly, offspring size and viability were determined by the condition of the first male, with no effect of the condition of the second mate. Genetic tests confirm this result holds even when the second male is the biological father of the offspring. These findings suggest the paternal effect is mediated by ACPs, and provide a compelling case for reassessing the possibility of telegony as a valid phenomenon." — Crean, Kopps, and Bonduriansky.
One year earlier, Henan University of Science and Technology in Xiangxiang, China, published an article on Gene, in which scientist Yongsheng Liu assured there are several considerations that support the theory of telegony. For example, the hundreds of sperm cells that reach a uterus but fail to fertilize an ovum are regularly absorbed by the woman's body, thus modifying the baby's DNA.
To this day, telegony has not been thoroughly confirmed, much less so in humans. However, the theory opens up exciting research paths to explore human genetics. Though you can't use it as an excuse to cover-up an infidelity just yet, the debate rages on. So, who knows, if your children end up reminding you to your ex, this might be the cause after all.
Translated by Oliver G. Alvar
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