Evolution of sexual reproduction  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Scientists currently have developed several competing hypotheses to explain the evolution of sexual reproduction. Many groups of organisms, notably the majority of animals and plants, reproduce sexually. The evolution of sex contains two related, yet distinct, themes: its origin and its maintenance. However, since the hypotheses for the origins of sex are difficult to test experimentally, most current work has been focused on the maintenance of sexual reproduction.

It seems that a sexual cycle is maintained because it improves the quality of progeny (fitness), despite reducing the overall number of offspring (the two-fold cost of sex). In order for sex to be evolutionarily advantageous, it must be associated with a significant increase in the fitness of offspring. One of the most widely accepted explanations for the advantage of sex lies in the creation of genetic variation. Another explanation is based on two molecular advantages. First is the advantage of recombinational DNA repair (promoted during meiosis because homologous chromosomes pair at that time), and second is the advantage of complementation (also known as hybrid vigor, heterosis or masking of mutations).

For the advantage due to creation of genetic variation, there are three possible reasons this might happen. First, sexual reproduction can bring together mutations that are beneficial into the same individual (sex aids in the spread of advantageous traits). Second, sex acts to bring together currently deleterious mutations to create severely unfit individuals that are then eliminated from the population (sex aids in the removal of deleterious genes). Last, sex creates new gene combinations that may be more fit than previously existing ones, or may simply lead to reduced competition among relatives.

For the advantage due to DNA repair, there is an immediate large benefit to removal of DNA damage by recombinational DNA repair during meiosis, since this removal allows greater survival of progeny with undamaged DNA. The advantage of complementation to each sexual partner is avoidance of the bad effects of their deleterious recessive genes in progeny by the masking effect of normal dominant genes contributed by the other partner.

The classes of hypotheses based on the creation of variation are further broken down below. It is important to realise that any number of these hypotheses may be true in any given species (they are not mutually exclusive), and that different hypotheses may apply in different species. However, a research framework based on creation of variation has yet to be found that allows one to determine whether the reason for sex is universal for all sexual species, and, if not, which mechanism is acting in each species.

On the other hand, the maintenance of sex based on DNA repair and complementation applies widely to all sexual species. This explanation for the maintenance of sex is explored further as Section 6.2 Sex is maintained by DNA repair and complementation, under “Other explanations” below.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Evolution of sexual reproduction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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