Birds and bees may do it, but the microscopic animals called bdelloid rotifers seem to get along just fine without sex, thank you. Whats more, they have done so over millions of years of evolution, resulting in at least 370 species. These hardy creatures somehow escape the usual drawback of asexuality extinction and the MBLs David Mark Welch, Matthew Meselson, and their colleagues are finding out how.
In two related papers published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the team proposes an interesting hypothesis: Bdelloid rotifers have been able to give up sex and survive because they have evolved an extraordinary efficient mechanism for repairing harmful mutations to their DNA.
We think, in the bdelloid rotifer, genomic changes together with environmental changes have conspired to create something that is able to exist in the absence of sex, says Mark Welch, an assistant scientist in the MBLs Josephine Bay Paul Center.
Their results have medical implications, because DNA repair capacity is an important factor in cancer, inflammation, aging, and other human conditions.
In animals that do have sex, DNA repair is accomplished during meiosis, when chromosomes pair up (one from the father, one from the mother) and fit genes on one chromosome can serve as templates to repair damaged genes on the other chromosome. The bdelloid, though, always seems to reproduce asexually, by making a clone of itself. How then, does it cope with deleterious mutations?
In the first PNAS paper, MBL adjunct scientist Matthew Meselson and Eugene Gladyshev, both of Harvard University, demonstrate the enormous DNA repair capacity of bdelloid rotifers by zapping them with ionizing radiation (gamma rays), which has the effect of shattering its DNA into many pieces. We kept exposing them to more and more radiation, and they didnt die and they didnt die and they didnt die, says Mark Welch. Even at five times
|Contact: Diana Kenney|
Marine Biological Laboratory