Sexual Reproduction

In sexual reproduction, two individuals produce offspring that have genetic characteristics from both parents. Sexual reproduction introduces new gene combinations in a population.

Sexual reproduction is of great significance in that, because of the fusion of two separate parental nuclei, the offspring inherit endlessly varied combinations of characteristics that provide a vast testing ground for new variations that may not only improve the species but ensure its survival. This probably explains the predominance of sexual reproduction among higher forms. Even in those microorganisms that reproduce asexually (e.g., bacteria) exchanges of hereditary material take place; in the hermaphroditic plants and animals (e.g., the earthworm) self-fertilization is almost always prevented by anatomical specializations or by differing maturation times for male and female gametes.

Sexual reproduction is advantageous because it generates variations in characters that can adapt a species over time and improve its chances of survival. There are also a number of strong cultural and religious influences on human behaviors associated with sexual reproduction, especially strong are influences on mate selection.

Advantages of sex: slower rate of reproduction but faster evolution, lower extinction rates, fast removal of deleterious mutations and better adaptation to host-parasite arms race.

Perhaps the oldest explanation for the prevalence of sexual reproduction is based on the fact that one thing that sexual reproduction clearly does is that it results in genotypic variation among offspring. Sex guarantees that every generation will be a diverse sample of all the genotypes that could have been produced by the previous generation. Presumably this genotypic variation will enable the population to respond to future selection pressures.

Sexual reproduction can be especially beneficial in finite populations. For example, the combined effects of directional selection and genetic drift can create a high level of linkage disequilibrium. This will reduce the number of potential genotypes and inhibit further response to selection. It is a common observation in artificial selection studies that a relaxation of selection for a period can be followed by further, significant response to selection, and most of this “new” variation is due to sexual reproduction.

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