Article ID: CBB858578556

Sprengel-Darwin Principle of Cross Fertilisation and the Queen of Problems in Evolutionary Biology (2010)


Three years after the publication of the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin wrote in a journal article that the causes why sexual reproduction occurs in animals and plants are unknown. Moreover, he mentioned that parthenogenesis (virgin birth) should be a more efficient mode of reproduction. Here I summarize evidence indicating that bi-parental (sexual) reproduction, which occurs in the vast majority of eukaryotic organisms, and out-crossing (cross-fertilisation) evolved and are maintained to provide biological variation for directional natural selection to act upon, notably in the presence of pathogens and parasites. Although these principles go back to the work of Christian K. Sprengel, Darwin, and August Weismann, the cytological basis of these processes became evident only after the development of the chromosome theory of heredity in 1903.Weismann‘s hypothesis, i.e., the postulate that sex functions to produce variable offspring, is based on the processes of meiotic recombination during gametogenesis, the production of sperm and eggs. Hence, males, which do not produce progeny, exist to create variability, which is important under unfavourable environmental conditions and in the presence of pathogens. Although most a-sexual organisms that reproduce parthenogenetically are ―evolutionary dead ends‖, bdelloid rotifers, tiny, ancient animals, diversified in freshwater habitats without carrying the ―cost of sex‖, i.e., the production of males. The exclusively female bdelloid rotifers reproduce via parthenogenesis, but can escape from deadly fungal parasites by a unique ―drying up and blowing away‖-strategy. Hence, the advantages of the inefficient mode of sexual reproduction, the ―queen of problems in evolutionary biology‖, are obvious, although there are still many open questions to be answered.

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Authors & Contributors
Martins, Lilian A.-C. Pereira
Delgado Torres, Isabel
Sober, Elliott R.
Delgado Echeverría, Isabel
Hull, David L.
Ambrose, C. T.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Archives of Natural History
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam
Filosofia e História da Biologia
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas
Oxford University Press
The MIT Press
Arizona State University
Evolutionary developmental biology
Darwin, Charles Robert
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Weismann, August
Morgan, Conway Lloyd
Gray, Asa
Rafinesque, Constantine Samuel
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
18th century
Great Britain
United States

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