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10. SEX Previous | Next

There are better ways to reproduce

NO one knows why we reproduce by having sex. All the arguments in favour of sex are countered by stronger arguments in favour of self-cloning: asexual reproduction, where an organism produces a copy of itself, is a much more efficient way to pass your genes down to the next generation. The puzzle is, why hasn’t asexual reproduction taken over? Asexual reproduction does exist in patches of the natural world, but sex is everywhere.

To Charles Darwin, the reason for the prevalence of sexual reproduction was “hidden in darkness”. More than a century later, in 1976, Maynard Smith said the problem with sex was so intransigent it made him feel "some essential feature of the system is being overlooked." Three decades later, the problem is still here.

The intriguing thing is, if you look at sex in terms of how it evolved its relationship with death, some interesting things begin to emerge. Could it be that sex is not the prime driver biology has taught us to believe?

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Location:Lewes, UK
Joined:23/07/2008
Posts:24

#1 - Posted: 06/08/2008 15:17

Here’s more evidence of the problem with standard sexual selection theory. A paper in 5 August PNAS shows that the old idea that alpha males aren’t guaranteed long-term success. Anthropologists and geneticists sifted through the DNA of 1269 males from 41 Indonesian communities, looking back more than 3000 years. Only 5 of those communities seem to have been dominated by a few male lines. Interestingly, 3 of the 5 were polygamous communities – which have obvious benefits for the dominant males. Turns out the main author has been aware of this for a while – there’s a video of him speaking on it here , as well as a summary which includes:

A central tenet of human behavioral ecology holds that facultative behaviors, such as those associated with dominance, produce fitness effects that are subject to cultural selection. “In more than one hundred well studied societies", according to a recent review, “high-ranking men have the right to more wives." But evidence for such selection is inconclusive, based on short-term statistical associations between behaviour and fertility. And the underlying model of selection, based on Fisher´s “fundamental theorem of natural selection" (circa 1930), is no longer taken seriously in population genetics.

The New Scientist story is here.

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