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K.a Van Doninck, I.a Schön and K.a Martens (2003)

A perspective on the importance of reproductive mode in astrobiology

Astrobiology, 3(4):657-671.

Reproduction is a vital characteristic of life, and sex is the most common reproductive mode in the eukaryotic world. Sex and reproduction are not necessarily linked mechanisms: Sexuality without reproduction exists, while several forms of asexual reproduction are known. The occurrence of sexuality itself is paradoxical, as it is very costly in evolutionary terms. Most of the hypotheses (more than 20) attempting to explain the prevalence of sex fall into two categories: Sex either creates good gene combinations for adaptation to environments or eliminates bad gene combinations counteracting the accumulation of mutations. In spite of this apparent wealth of beneficial effects of sex, asexuality is not rare. Most eukaryotic, asexual lineages are short-lived and can only persist through the presence of sexual roots, but at least two animal groups, bdelloid rotifers and darwinulid ostracods, seem to claim the status of ancient asexuals. Research on (a)sexuality is relevant to astrobiology in a number of ways. First, strong relationships between the origin and persistence of life in extreme environments and reproductive mode are known. Second, the "habitability" of nonterrestrial environments to life greatly depends on reproductive mode. Whereas asexuals can do equally well or better in harsh environments, they fail to adapt fast enough to changing abiotic and biotic environments. Third, it has been shown that plants reproduce mainly asexually in space, and sperm production and motility in some vertebrates are hampered. Both findings indicate that extraterrestrial life under conditions different from Earth might be dominated by asexual reproduction. Finally, for exchange of biological material between planets, the choice of reproductive mode will be important. © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

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