Genetically manipulated females went on to reproduce without a male partner in a new study.

Scientists have said they genetically engineered female fruit flies that can have offspring without needing a male, marking the first time “virgin birth” has been induced in an animal.

The offspring of the flies were also able to give birth without mating, showing that the trait could be passed down generations, in another first revealed in a study in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.

Virgin birth, also called parthenogenesis, is rare but not unheard of in the animal kingdom.

The females of some egg-laying animals – such as lizards and birds – are capable of giving birth without mating, usually later in life when no males are available.

Scientists revealed last month that a female crocodile in a Costa Rican zoo who had never been near a male laid an egg containing a fully formed fetus, the first recorded virgin birth for the reptile.

Sexual reproduction usually involves a female’s egg being fertilised by sperm from a male. But for parthenogenesis, the female develops the egg into an embryo all on her own.

Alexis Sperling, a researcher at the UK’s Cambridge University and lead author of the new study, said she had wanted to study virgin births ever since her pet praying mantis had one.

Seeking to find a genetic cause for the phenomenon, Sperling and several US-based researchers decided to experiment on a species of fruit fly called Drosophila melanogaster.

The fly, which sexually reproduces normally, is one of the most studied animals for genetic research, meaning they could take advantage of more than a century’s worth of knowledge.

First, the team sequenced the genomes of two strains of another fruit fly, Drosophila mercatorum. One strain reproduces solely via virgin birth, while the other needs a male.

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