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REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY AND HUMAN WELFARE* JOHN D. BIGGERS, D.Sc, Ph.D.f Introduction The building we dedicate today has been constructed to provide a home for the study of reproduction and, in particular, the reproduction of man. The intent of the foundations and government agencies who furnished the funds to establish this laboratory is to find a solution to an urgent problem of mankind—the problem of controlling the size of human populations. A necessary condition for the solution of this problem is the development of an adequate contraceptive technology. It was only a few years ago that many nonmedical population experts believed that we already had an adequate contraceptive technology. This belief was not unreasonable because of the initial impressive results obtained with the oral contraceptive pill, introduced by Rock, Pincus, and Garcia in the United States in 1956 [1], and the intrauterine contraceptive device, reintroduced independently by Oppenheimer in Israel [2] and Ishihama in Japan in 1959 [3]. However, after a decade and a half, we now find that in practice, these methods are not without problems and that there is an urgent need for the development of new methods. The search for entirely new, acceptable procedures is critical if contraceptive technology is to contribute effectively to the widespread, sustained practice of voluntary birth control. Technological advances, at a given time in any field, depend jointly on the available body of scientific knowledge and its contemporary interpretation. It is important, therefore, in considering the present state of a particular applied field to understand the * Modified from an address given at the dedication day ceremonies of the Laboratory of Human Reproduction and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, May 8, 1972. t Department of Physiology and Laboratory of Human Reproduction and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School, 45 Shattuck Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115. 630 I John D. Biggers · Reproductive Biology historical process that has given rise to the scientific domain on which present technological advances in the field must be based. Since innovations in contraceptive technology will be based on contemporary views of the nature of reproductive biology, I feel that it is appropriate in a lecture on "Reproductive Biology and Human Welfare" to use, in part, a historical approach. Selected Topics in the History of Reproductive Biology I have chosen three topics to illustrate the nature of reproductive biology: fertilization, mammalian sexual cycles, and synthetic estrogens . These topics would not be everybody's choice: I have chosen them partly because my career in research and teaching has led me to study them in depth, and partly because their history reveals the existence of interesting intellectual blocks which temporarily held up our discovery of important basic facts and concepts. A. FERTILIZATION Most human societies have understood that somehow children arrive after the union of a man and a woman. During this act, the semen from a man is introduced into a woman's genital tract. The first embryological treatise was written by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in a work called "Generation of Animals." He believed the human embryo was organized out of the mother's activated uterine secretions and that the semen contributed only a spiritual element necessary for forming the fetus (see Preus [4] for a recent discussion of Aristotle's views). We now know that the semen contains specialized male cells called spermatozoa and that they are capable of fusing with special female cells called ova. The process of fusion is called fertilization, and in mammals only one sperm fuses with one ovum. The concept that fertilization is the basic mechanism which leads to the creation of a new individual is nowadays taken for granted, and it is not generally realized that knowledge of this fact is less than 100 years old. The necessity for procreation of introducing semen into a woman was certainly known in the eighteenth century. Although not well documented, in 1799 it was reported that John Hunter first successfully artificially inseminated a woman [5]. We also learned from a German physician, Girtanner, that the condom was a contraceptive measure at this period. In 1 788, he described the open sale of conPerspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1973 | 631 doms in Paris...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 630-649
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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