How to Survive 50 Million Years Without Sex


Staying celibate can be a difficult task, but bdelloid rotifers have managed to survive without sex for nearly 50 million years.

“This animal has lost its sexuality,” said study co-author Olivier Jaillon of Genoscope, part of the Institut de Génomique du CEA in France.

Jaillon said the results of the study gave him one of the very rare moments in a career when you feel you’ve really “found something.”

Reproductive Mystery

Bdelloid rotifers are microscopic, multicellular animals that look and move a lot like leeches (“bdelloid” is from the Greek for “leech”). They generally live in freshwater, moist soil, and other damp environments. And these unassuming animals have some pretty cool superpowers: They can withstand long periods of being dried out, as well as massive doses of radiation that would kill pretty much every other living thing.

Despite these traits, bdelloid rotifers are mainly known in the research world for their 40-million-year-long dry spell in the sack. Although biologists long suspected that these microscopic animals never reproduced sexually—they generally reproduce via an asexual method known as parthenogenesis, in which the offspring is the clone of the parent—the assertion remained controversial for several reasons.

Written By: Carrie Arnold
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  1. If only it were possible to transplant some of these little chaps genes into some suspect Roman Catholic Priests.

  2. GM foods activists: ‘GM Rotifer Surprise’ …anyone?

    We are just beginning to pick apart this astonishing web of relationships, with patterns and patterns superposed on them. Promiscuous and altogether unspiritual gene-acquisition is one of many. Plants (often familiar trees like English Oak and Beech) are frequently parasitic (some would argue symbiotic) on other organisms, like soil Mycorrhiza, or predate insects, and not the reverse as was assumed before we could track and measure nutrient transfer.

    From the NG article – “In fact, Van Donink pointed out, the chromosomes of A. vaga had many of the same genetic characteristics of the human Y chromosome, which also does not undergo crossing over. This similarity helps confirm that this step does not happen and these bdelloid rotifers are not capable of sexual reproduction.”

    Yet again an academic approach to the getting of knowledge shows the value of correlations on a theoretical level which confirm the importance of ‘pure’ research (sorry, I’ve reservations about that word pure…).

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