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Scientists Find Species That Survived for Thousands of Years Without Having Sex

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Oct 1, 2021

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Image Credit: Bergen Uni.

The reproductive practices of beetle mites, or the Oppiella nova, have been a mystery to scientists for a while now. But courtesy of a new study, they’ve finally unlocked it.

Reportedly, scientists struggled to understand how the species was reproducing without engaging in intercourse for a long time. So, they believed the beetles were probably managing to do the deed in private, away from prying biologists. They thought there might be “some ‘cryptic’ sexual exchange that is not known. Or [we don’t] yet know,” Alexander Brandt from the University of Göttingen in Germany, who is the first author of the study, said in a statement.

In time, they labeled it as an “ancient asexual scandal” that they couldn’t wrap their heads around.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study, however, has shed light on how the beetle mite has survived for thousands — perhaps, even millions — of years without indulging in sex. Essentially, the beetles have been cloning themselves. Also, it turns out, the species is all-female.

However, with cloning, genetic diversity cannot develop. Scientists note that one of the advantages of sexual reproduction involves mixing different sets of genes from the two parents, resulting in genetic diversity. This, in turn, allows a species to adapt to various environmental factors and resist emerging diseases. But cloning provides no scope for that.


Related on The Swaddle:

Humans Aren’t The Only Species Facing a Male Fertility Crisis


And yet, the beetle mites have succeeded in introducing genetic variation within their species. How? It’s a result of something called the “Meselson effect” that allows individuals of certain species “to create different copies of its genetic information with separate mutations,” Futurism explains.  

Reportedly, this is actually “the first instance” of scientists observing the effect on a species.

“That may sound simple. But in practice, the Meselson effect has never been conclusively demonstrated in animals — until now,” said Tanja Schwander from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, who co-authored the study.

In case you’re wondering whether humans can reproduce asexually, a 2015 Canadian mockumentary called No Men Beyond This Point had a fascinating, albeit fictional, take on what that would look like.

In the meantime, we have the beetle mites championing asexual reproduction. “When it comes to understanding how evolution works without sex, these beetle mites could still provide a surprise or two,” co-author Jens Bast from the University of Cologne noted.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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