Stuart Auld – The Fellow who studies sex

Hello world,

 

I’m Stuart and am an Impact Fellow at the University of Stirling. What *is* an Impact Fellow exactly? Well essentially, I get paid to be really interested in things, find out how these things work and communicate this to as many other people as possible. It’s an awesome job because it’s like being an 8 year old (except I now have to pay council tax).

 

What is the particular thing I’m interested in? Sex. That got your attention.

 

To be specific, I’m interested in why some organisms have sex while others do not. There are organisms in the world that reproduce asexually. Instead of mixing DNA from two parents to make offspring (the standard operating procedure), asexual organisms just clone themselves; females produce genetically identical offspring. A mother can lay eggs/give birth to a genetically identical version of herself. That is awesome. Some aphids do it (those garden pests), some fish do it and some crustaceans do it (to give but a few examples).

 

Why? Why don’t they have sex to produce offspring like most organisms? For starters, asexual reproduction is much more efficient and less costly. Sexually-reproducing organisms often have to go and find a mate, which takes time and energy; sometimes they have to compete for/choose between potential partners; and when they do mate, they are at risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. Conversely, an asexual female can eliminate all this effort and risk and produce at a time that best-suits her. Also – and this is really important – asexual lineages will have much greater population growth than sexual lineages because each individual can produce offspring; there are no costly males that have to find a female to reproduce.

 

So this all leads to a second question: If asexual reproduction is so much better, why do most organisms have sex? Boom. That is one of the big questions in evolutionary biology, and is often referred to as The Paradox of Sex. It’s the question Stirling University are paying me to be interested in.

 

In future posts, I’ll tell you more about my research on sex. To whet your appetite, I think sex is the main mode of reproduction because of parasites. An epic war between hosts and parasites over evolutionary time. If you can’t wait until then, check out my website www.stuartauld.wordpress.com or follow me on twitter @StuAuld

 

That’s all for now,

 

S.

 

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