Telegony: Your Future Children Could Look Like Your Ex, According To Science

Feb 13, 2021

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.

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.

Microchimerism of male origin

Male microchimerism, the presence of a small number of male cells, in women has been attributed to prior pregnancies. However, male microchimerism has also been reported in women with only daughters, in nulliparous women and prepubertal girls suggesting that other sources of male microchimerism must exist. We speculate that sexual intercourse may be important but other sources of male cells likely exist in young girls.

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