Asexual reproduction

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Asexual reproduction in liverworts: a caducuous phylloid germinating

Asexual reproduction is a form of reproduction which does not involve meiosis, ploidy reduction, or fertilization. Asexual reproduction only takes one parent. A more stringent definition is agamogenesis which refers to reproduction without the fusion of gametes. Asexual reproduction is the primary form of reproduction for single-celled organisms such as archaea, bacteria, and protists. Many plants and fungi reproduce mostly asexually as well. While all prokaryotes reproduce asexually (without the formation and fusion of gametes), mechanisms for lateral gene transfer such as conjugation, transformation and transduction are sometimes likened to sexual reproduction.[1]

Asexual reproduction is relatively rare among multicellular organisms, for reasons that are not completely understood. Current hypotheses suggest that, while asexual reproduction may have short term benefits when rapid population growth is important or in stable environments, sexual reproduction offers a net advantage by allowing more rapid generation of genetic diversity, allowing adaptation to changing environments.

Because asexual reproduction does not require the formation of gametes (often in separate individuals) and bringing them together for fertilization, it occurs much faster than sexual reproduction and requires less energy. Asexual lineages can increase their numbers rapidly because all members can reproduce viable offspring. In sexual populations with two genders, some of the individuals are male and cannot themselves produce offspring. This means that an asexual lineage will have roughly double the rate of population growth under ideal conditions when compared with a sexual population half composed of males. This is known as the two-fold cost of sex. Other advantages include the ability to reproduce without a partner in situations where the population density is low (such as for some desert lizards), reducing the chance of finding a mate, or during colonisation of isolated habitats such as oceanic islands, where a single (female) member of the species is enough to start a population.

Another consequence of asexual reproduction, which may have both benefits and costs, is that offspring are typically genetically similar to their parent, with as broad a range as that individual receives from one parent. The lack of genetic recombination results in fewer genetic alternatives than with sexual reproduction. Many forms of asexual reproduction, for example budding or fragmentation, produce an exact replica of the parent. This genetic similarity may be beneficial if the genotype is well-suited to a stable environment, but disadvantageous if the environment is changing. For example, if a new predator or pathogen appears and a genotype is particularly defenseless against it, an asexual lineage is more likely to be completely wiped out by it. In contrast, a lineage that reproduces sexually has a higher probability of having more members survive due to the genetic recombination that produces a novel genotype in each individual. Similar arguments apply to changes in the physical environment. From an evolutionary standpoint, one could thus argue that asexual reproduction is inferior because it stifles the potential for change. However, there is also a significantly reduced chance of mutation or other complications that can result from the mixing of genes. A 2004 article in the journal Nature reported that the modern arbuscular mycorrhizas fungi, which reproduces asexually, is identical to fossil records dating back to the Ordovician period, 460 million years ago.[2]

Types of asexual reproduction

Binary fission

Many, but not all, single-celled organisms (unicellular), such as archaea, bacteria, and protists, reproduce asexually through binary fission. An exception to the rule are unicellular fungi such as fission yeast, unicellular algae such as Chlamydomonas, and ciliates and some other protists, which reproduce both sexually and asexually. Some single-celled organisms(unicellular) rely on one or more host organisms in order to reproduce, but most literally divide into two organisms.


Some cells split via budding (for example baker's yeast), resulting in a smaller 'mother' cell and larger 'daughter' cell. Offspring is larger than parent. Budding is also known on a multicellular level. An animal example is hydra, which reproduces by budding. The buds grow into fully matured individuals which eventually break away from the parent animal.

Vegetative Reproduction

Vegetative reproduction is a type of asexual reproduction found in plants where new independent individuals are formed without the production of seeds or spores. Examples for vegetative reproduction include the formation of plantlets on specialized leaves (for example in kalanchoe), the growth of new plants out of rhizomes or stolons (for example in strawberry), or the formation of new bulbs (for example in tulips). The resulting plants form a clonal colony.

Spore formation

Many multicellular organisms form spores during their biological life cycle in a process called sporogenesis. Exceptions are animals and some protists, who undergo gametic meiosis immediately followed by fertilization. Plants and many algae on the other hand undergo sporic meiosis where meiosis leads to the formation of haploid spores rather than gametes. These spores grow into multicellular individuals (called gametophytes in the case of plants) without a fertilization event. This haploid individual gives rise to gametes through mitosis. Meiosis and gamete formation therefore occur in separate generations or "phases" of the life cycle, referred to as alternation of generations. Since sexual reproduction is often more narrowly defined as the fusion of gametes (fertilization), spore formation in plant sporophytes and algae might be considered a form of asexual reproduction (agamogenesis) despite being the result of meiosis and undergoing a reduction in ploidy. However, both events (spore formation and fertilization) are necessary to complete sexual reproduction in the plant life cycle.

Fungi and some algae can also utilize true asexual spore formation, which involves mitosis giving rise to reproductive cells called mitospores that develop into a new organism after dispersal. This method of reproduction is found for example in conidial fungi and the red alga Polysiphonia, and involves sporogenesis without meiosis. Thus the chromosome number of the spore cell is the same as that of the parent producing the spores. However, mitotic sporogenesis is an exception and most spores, such as those of plants and most fungi and algae, are produced by meiosis.


Fragmentation is a form of asexual reproduction where a new organism grows from a fragment of the parent. Each fragment develops into a mature, fully grown individual. Fragmentation is seen in many organisms such as animals (some annelid worms and starfish), fungi, and plants. Some plants have specialized structures for reproduction via fragmentation, such as gemmae in liverworts. Most lichens, which are a symbiotic union of a fungus and photosynthetic algae or bacteria, reproduce through fragmentation to ensure that new individuals contain both symbionts. These fragments can take the form of soredia, dust-like particles consisting of fungal hyphae wrapped around photobiont cells.


Parthenogenesis is a form of agamogenesis in which an unfertilized egg develops into a new individual. Parthenogenesis occurs naturally in many plants, invertebrates (e.g. water fleas, aphids, some bees and parasitic wasps), and vertebrates (e.g. some reptiles, amphibians, fish, and, very rarely birds). In plants, apomixis may or may not involve parthenogenesis.


Agamogenesis is any form of reproduction that does not involve a male gamete. Examples are parthenogenesis and apomixis.

Apomixis and nucellar embryony

Apomixis in plants is the formation of a new sporophyte without fertilization. It is important in ferns and in flowering plants, but is very rare in other seed plants. In flowering plants, the term "apomixis" is now most often used for agamospermy, the formation of seeds without fertilization, but was once used to include vegetative reproduction. An example of an apomictic plant would be the triploid European dandelion. Apomixis mainly occurs in two forms: In gametophytic apomixis, the embryo arises from an unfertilized egg within a diploid embryo sac that was formed without completing meiosis. In nucellar embryony, the embryo is formed from the diploid nucellus tissue surrounding the embryo sac. Nucellar embryony occurs in some citrus seeds. Male apomixis can occur in rare cases, such as the Saharan Cypress where the genetic material of the embryo are derived entirely from pollen. The term "apomixis" is also used for asexual reproduction in some animals, notably water-fleas, Daphnia.

Alternation between sexual and asexual reproduction

Some species alternate between the sexual and asexual strategies, an ability known as heterogamy, depending on conditions. For example, the freshwater crustacean Daphnia reproduces by parthenogenesis in the spring to rapidly populate ponds, then switches to sexual reproduction as the intensity of competition and predation increases. Many protists and fungi alternate between sexual and asexual reproduction. For example, the slime mold Dictyostelium undergoes binary fission as single-celled amboebae under favorable conditions. However, when conditions turn unfavorable, the cells aggregate and switch to sexual reproduction leading to the formation of spores. The hyphae of the common mold (Rhizopus) are capable of producing both mitotic as well as meiotic spores. Many algae similarly switch between sexual and asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is far less complicated than sexual reproduction. In sexual reproduction one must find a mate.

Examples in animals

A number of invertebrates and some less advanced vertebrates are known to alternate between sexual and asexual reproduction, or be exclusively asexual. Alternation is observed in a few types of insects, such as aphids (which will, under favourable conditions, produce eggs that have not gone through meiosis, essentially cloning themselves) and the cape bee Apis mellifera capensis (which can reproduce asexually through a process called thelytoky). A few species of amphibians and reptiles have the same ability (see parthenogenesis for concrete examples). A very unusual case among more advanced vertebrates is the female turkey's ability to produce fertile eggs in the absence of a male. The eggs result in often sickly, and nearly always male turkeys. This behaviour can interfere with the incubation of eggs in turkey farming.[3]

Notes and references

  1. Narra HP, Ochman H (2006). "Of what use is sex to bacteria?". Current Biology. 16: R705–710. PMID 16950097.
  2. Teresa Pawlowska and John Taylor, "Organization of genetic variation in individuals of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi", Nature, 2004, volume 427 (6976), pages 733-737.
  3. Savage, Thomas F. (September 12, 2005). "A Guide to the Recognition of Parthenogenesis in Incubated Turkey Eggs". Oregon State University. Retrieved 2006-10-11.

Further reading

  • Graham, L., J. Graham, & L. Wilcox. 2003. Plant Biology. Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, N.J.: pp. 258-259.
  • Raven, P.H., Evert, R.F., Eichhorn, S.E. 2005. Biology of Plants, 7th Edition. W.H. Freeman and Company Publishers, NY.

See also

External links

cs:Nepohlavní rozmnožování da:Ukønnet formering de:Ungeschlechtliche Vermehrung et:Suguta paljunemine eo:Neseksa reprodukado ia:Reproduction asexual he:רבייה אל זוויגית nl:Ongeslachtelijke voortplanting no:Ukjønnet formering simple:Asexual reproduction sv:Asexuell förökning