Extract from The Infertility Trap, by Laureate Professor John Aitken, Scientific Director at Memphasys.

As a species we are being swept away along a river of our own making that will lead to massive changes in our reproductive fortunes if current trends are not recognised and reversed. Like hapless Poohsticks, we shall be carried towards the raging rapids of reproductive ruin if we do not pause for  a moment and reflect on where the current changes in population dynamics are leading us. This requires us not only to look back and understand the past but also to project the consequences of our current behaviours well into the future.


We know now, better than we have ever known, that the future is uncertain. Who could have predicted the massive impact that a simple virus could have had on our world? Who could have anticipated the havoc that would be wreaked on the health of the wealthiest and the poorest nations on Earth, the global economy, or the lack of effective leadership observed in some of the world’s most powerful nations? Predicting the future is difficult – there are too many unknowns. Moreover, it is hard to be predictive from a single vantage point. The shape of the future as determined by a demographer may be very different from one predicted by an agronomist or virologist or a leader of one of the world’s major religions. Our future trajectory depends on the intersection of so many different kinds of influence, demographic, social, climatic, political, economic, technological;, biological – and even cosmic for all that we know. We somehow have to intercalate all these factors and learn how to take a long-term view.

Instead of addressing the future of our global population from the perspective of a 3-5-year political cycle, we need to look across the centuries, even millennia, to understand the changes that have bright us to this little grassy hillock on which we stand and, from this tenuous position, consider how our current behavioural patterns are going to influence our future. Moreover, we need to do this as a unified global collective, not just an assemblage of self-centred nations. This may be difficult in the post-COVID era, when isolation has become a virtue.Of course, none of us can escape the microcosm of our own experience when it comes to developing a prognosis for the human condition. I have written this text from the viewpoint of a biologist and a reproductive biologist in particular. I claim no deep knowledge of social science, demography or political history and, while I admire the skills of mathematicians enormously, do not have the ability to see the world through abstract concepts and intricate formulae. However, I think it does help in this situation to have a biologist’s evolutionary perspective.

As a species we have not stopped evolving. It is not as if we have reached an apex of some Darwinian pyramid and now look back on the fruits of our evolutionary labours with satisfaction and level of complacency. Our environment is constantly threatening our capacity to procreate – the only feature of human existence that natural selection has any interest in. Evolution works by each species rising to the challenges that the environment presents, and constantly optimising their chances of reproductive success. If, for some inexplicable reason, human females were to decide that they would only have sex with naturally left-handed males, the selection pressure on left-handedness would be immense and, over generations, the frequency of genes contributing to a left-handed phenotype would increase within the population.

Nature is not interested in any other human trait. Whether it is in the capacity to dance, write poetry, compose beautiful music, paint, understand mathematics, show aggression, kindness or altruism, religious piety, or humility, none of these factors are influenced by natural selection unless they influence our capacity to reproduce – and this will change with our circumstances. Physical health and aggression might have been greatly appreciated by the Anglo-Saxon women in the Middle Ages as the Vikings hordes were landing on British beaches, and would have been selected for. A capacity to dance might have even had an impact on reproductive success in the postwar years when Saturday night dances were the main meeting point for young men and women and geosocial networking and online dating applications such as Tinder were not even a twinkle in Sean Rad’s or Justin Mateen’s eyes. Human attributes that are not selected for remain randomly dispersed through the population and will not become a significant feature of the human condition unless natural selection intervenes.

The problem for humankind as a species, is that the prosperity that we, and our Governments, all seek isolates us from the selection pressures normally associated with evolution. At this stage of our social and biological development there is no capacity for natural selection to optimise human fertility. An important lesson that we have come to understand from the breeding of domestic animals is that if you do not select for something, it is lost. Thoroughbred horses and dairy cattle are an inbred lot, largely selected based on athletic prowess and milk yield, respectively. As a result, fecundity (the chances of producing an offspring if intercourse takes place at the optimal stage of the female cycle) in these animals is only around 60% If such low rates of fecundity are creating a crisis for the agricultural industry, imagine the kind of crisis we might be facing with our own species, were fecundity is only 25%. That is, that the chances of conception if two normal human beings have intercourse in mid cycle is only 1 in 4. This is why infertility specialists do not even start to get concerned about  a given couple’s fertility unless they have been actively trying to conceive for more than a year without success.

So, given this long-term view and the complex interplay of factors conspiring to drive down human fertility and lure us into a trap, what can be done to ameliorate the situation?

We will share more on the solution in a series of upcoming articles and extracts from The Infertility Trap, by Laureate Professor John Aitken, Scientific Director at Memphasys.

All of us at Memphasys are delighted to have Professor Aitken by our side as we move forward to business development in the assisted reproduction and fertility market to develop a world class portfolio of device, diagnostic and media products that address critical human and animal reproduction issues.

Our Felix™ device is the direct result of our ongoing collaboration with Professor John Aitken, a truly global leader in the field of reproductive biology. The Felix™ device is the Memphasys sperm separation technology that’s now in commercial production and available for sale in early adopting countries such as Japan, Canada and New Zealand – with clinical studies and preparations of filings for regulatory certifications underway in China and Australia