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Concept: Asexual reproduction


Although most eukaryotes reproduce sexually at some moment of their life cycle, as much as a fifth of fungal species were thought to reproduce exclusively asexually. Nevertheless, recent studies have revealed the occurrence of sex in some of these supposedly asexual species. For industrially relevant fungi, for which inoculums are produced by clonal-subcultures since decades, the potentiality for sex is of great interest for strain improvement strategies. Here, we investigated the sexual capability of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, used as starter for blue cheese production. We present indirect evidence suggesting that recombination could be occurring in this species. The screening of a large sample of strains isolated from diverse substrates throughout the world revealed the existence of individuals of both mating types, even in the very same cheese. The MAT genes, involved in fungal sexual compatibility, appeared to evolve under purifying selection, suggesting that they are still functional. The examination of the recently sequenced genome of the FM 164 cheese strain enabled the identification of the most important genes known to be involved in meiosis, which were found to be highly conserved. Linkage disequilibria were not significant among three of the six marker pairs and 11 out of the 16 possible allelic combinations were found in the dataset. Finally, the detection of signatures of repeat induced point mutations (RIP) in repeated sequences and transposable elements reinforces the conclusion that P. roqueforti underwent more or less recent sex events. In this species of high industrial importance, the induction of a sexual cycle would open the possibility of generating new genotypes that would be extremely useful to diversify cheese products.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Eukaryote, Fungus, Asexual reproduction, Penicillium roqueforti


How easy is it to reproduce the results found in a typical computational biology paper? Either through experience or intuition the reader will already know that the answer is with difficulty or not at all. In this paper we attempt to quantify this difficulty by reproducing a previously published paper for different classes of users (ranging from users with little expertise to domain experts) and suggest ways in which the situation might be improved. Quantification is achieved by estimating the time required to reproduce each of the steps in the method described in the original paper and make them part of an explicit workflow that reproduces the original results. Reproducing the method took several months of effort, and required using new versions and new software that posed challenges to reconstructing and validating the results. The quantification leads to “reproducibility maps” that reveal that novice researchers would only be able to reproduce a few of the steps in the method, and that only expert researchers with advance knowledge of the domain would be able to reproduce the method in its entirety. The workflow itself is published as an online resource together with supporting software and data. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the complexities of requiring reproducibility in terms of cost versus benefit, and a desiderata with our observations and guidelines for improving reproducibility. This has implications not only in reproducing the work of others from published papers, but reproducing work from one’s own laboratory.

Concepts: Scientific method, Reproduction, Organism, Life, Academic publishing, Expert, Asexual reproduction, Expert witness


Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which embryos develop in the absence of fertilisation. Most commonly found in plants and invertebrate organisms, an increasing number of vertebrate species have recently been reported employing this reproductive strategy. Here we use DNA genotyping to report the first demonstration of an intra-individual switch from sexual to parthenogenetic reproduction in a shark species, the zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum. A co-housed, sexually produced daughter zebra shark also commenced parthenogenetic reproduction at the onset of maturity without any prior mating. The demonstration of parthenogenesis in these two conspecific individuals with different sexual histories provides further support that elasmobranch fishes may flexibly adapt their reproductive strategy to environmental circumstances.

Concepts: Reproduction, Organism, Life, Vertebrate, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Shark, Parthenogenesis


Crabs of the genus Lybia have the remarkable habit of holding a sea anemone in each of their claws. This partnership appears to be obligate, at least on the part of the crab. The present study focuses on Lybia leptochelis from the Red Sea holding anemones of the genus Alicia (family Aliciidae). These anemones have not been found free living, only in association with L. leptochelis. In an attempt to understand how the crabs acquire them, we conducted a series of behavioral experiments and molecular analyses. Laboratory observations showed that the removal of one anemone from a crab induces a “splitting” behavior, whereby the crab tears the remaining anemone into two similar parts, resulting in a complete anemone in each claw after regeneration. Furthermore, when two crabs, one holding anemones and one lacking them, are confronted, the crabs fight, almost always leading to the “theft” of a complete anemone or anemone fragment by the crab without them. Following this, crabs “split” their lone anemone into two. Individuals of Alicia sp. removed from freshly collected L.¬†leptochelis were used for DNA analysis. By employing AFLP (Fluorescence Amplified Fragments Length Polymorphism) it was shown that each pair of anemones from a given crab is genetically identical. Furthermore, there is genetic identity between most pairs of anemone held by different crabs, with the others showing slight genetic differences. This is a unique case in which one animal induces asexual reproduction of another, consequently also affecting its genetic diversity.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Animal, Asexual reproduction, Sea anemone, Crab louse, Porcelain crab, Anemone


K-selected species with low rates of sexual recruitment may utilise storage effects where low adult mortality allows a number of individuals to persist through time until a favourable recruitment period occurs. Alternative methods of recruitment may become increasingly important for such species if the availability of favourable conditions for sexual recruitment decline under rising anthropogenic disturbance and climate change. Here, we test the hypotheses that asexual dispersal is an integral life history strategy not only in branching corals, as previously reported, but also in a columnar, ‘K-selected’ coral species, and that its prevalence is driven by the frequency of severe hurricane disturbance. Montastraea annularis is a long-lived major frame-work builder of Caribbean coral reefs but its survival is threatened by the consequences of climate induced disturbance, such as bleaching, ocean acidification and increased prevalence of disease. 700 M. annularis samples from 18 reefs within the Caribbean were genotyped using six polymorphic microsatellite loci. We demonstrate that asexual reproduction occurs at varying frequency across the species-range and significantly contributes to the local abundance of M. annularis, with its contribution increasing in areas with greater hurricane frequency. We tested several competing hypotheses that might explain the observed pattern of genotypic diversity. 64% of the variation in genotypic diversity among the sites was explained by hurricane incidence and reef slope, demonstrating that large-scale disturbances combine with local habitat characteristics to shape the balance between sexual and asexual reproduction in populations of M. annularis.

Concepts: Reproduction, Evolution, Coral, Coral reef, Ecosystem, Asexual reproduction, Ocean acidification, R/K selection theory


In recent decades, invasive willows and poplars (Salicaceae) have built dense floodplain forests along most of the rivers in Patagonia, Argentina. These invasion processes may affect Salix humboldtiana as the only native floodplain tree species in this region. It is assumed, that the property to reproduce vegetatively can play an important role in the establishment of invasive species in their new range. Thus, in order to contribute to a better understanding of willow and poplar invasions in riparian systems and to assess the potential impacts on S. humboldtiana the vegetative reproduction capacities of native and invasive Salicaceae were analysed. In a greenhouse experiment, we studied cutting survival and growth performance of the three most dominant invasive Salicaceae of the Patagonian Río Negro region (two Salix hybrids and Populus spec.), as well as S. humboldtiana, taking into account three different moisture and two different soil conditions. In a subsequent experiment, the shoot and root biomass of cuttings from the former experiment were removed and the bare cuttings were replanted to test their ability to re-sprout. The two invasive willow hybrids performed much better than S. humboldtiana and Populus spec. under all treatment combinations and tended to re-sprout more successfully after repeated biomass loss. Taking into account the ecology of vegetative and generative recruits of floodplain willows, the results indicate that the more vigorous vegetative reproduction capacity can be a crucial property for the success of invasive willow hybrids in Patagonia being a potential threat for S. humboldtiana.

Concepts: Asexual reproduction, Willow, Trees, Salicaceae, Salix caprea


Background and AimsIntraspecific reproductive differentiation into sexual and apomictic cytotypes of differing ploidy is a common phenomenon. However, mechanisms enabling the maintenance of both reproductive modes and integrity of cytotypes in sympatry are as yet poorly understood. This study examined the association of sexual and apomictic seed formation with ploidy as well as gene flow towards sexuals within populations of purely polyploid Potentilla puberula.MethodsThe study is based on 22 populations representing various combinations of five polyploid cytotypes (tetraploid-octoploid) from East Tyrol, Austria. Embryo ploidy and the endosperm/embryo ploidy ratio obtained by a flow cytometric seed screen were used to infer reproductive modes of seed formation and to calculate the male and female genomic contributions to the embryo and endosperm. Self-incompatibility (SI) patterns were assessed and a new indirect approach was used to test for the occurrence of intercytotype matings based on the variation in the male genomic contribution to sexually derived embryos on the level of developed seed.Key ResultsTetraploids formed seeds almost exclusively via sexual reproduction, whereas penta- to octoploids were preferentially apomictic. Non-random distribution of reproductive modes within maternal plants further revealed a tendency to separate the sexual from the apomictic mode among individuals. Self-incompatibility of sexuals indicated functionality of the gametophytic SI system despite tetraploidy of the nuclear genome. We found no indication for significant cross-fertilization of tetraploids by the high polyploids.ConclusionsThe study revealed a rare example of intraspecific differentiation into sexual and apomictic cytotypes at the polyploid level. The integrity of the sexual tetraploids was maintained due to reproductive isolation from the apomictic higher polyploids. Functionality of the gametophytic SI system suggested that the tetraploids are functional diploids.

Concepts: Genetics, Reproduction, Genome, Seed, Asexual reproduction, Rosaceae, Plant reproduction, Parthenogenesis


Facultative parthenogenesis, seen in many animal phyla, is a reproductive strategy in which females are able to generate offspring when mating partners are unavailable. In some subsocial and eusocial insects, parthenogenesis is often more prevalent than sexual reproduction. However, little is known about how social cooperation is linked to the promotion of parthenogenesis. The domiciliary cockroach Periplaneta americana is well-suited to addressing this issue as this species belongs to the superfamily Blattoidea, which diverged into eusocial termites and shows facultative parthenogenesis.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Cockroach, Parthenogenesis, Termite


While many skeletal biomineralized genera are described from Ediacaran (635-541 million years ago, Ma) strata, none have been suggested to have an affinity above the Porifera-Cnidaria metazoan grade. Here, we reinterpret the widespread terminal Ediacaran (approx. 550-541 Ma) sessile goblet-shaped Namacalathus as a triploblastic eumetazoan. Namacalathus has a stalked cup with radially symmetrical cross section, multiple lateral lumens and a central opening. We show that the skeleton of Namacalathus is composed of a calcareous foliated ultrastructure displaying regular concordant columnar inflections, with a possible inner organic-rich layer. These features point to an accretionary growth style of the skeleton and an affinity with the Lophotrochozoa, more specifically within the Lophophorata (Brachiopoda and Bryozoa). Additionally, we present evidence for asexual reproduction as expressed by regular budding in a bilateral pattern. The interpretation of Namacalathus as an Ediacaran total group lophophorate is consistent with an early radiation of the Lophophorata, as known early Cambrian representatives were sessile, mostly stalked forms, and in addition, the oldest known calcareous Brachiopoda (early Cambrian Obolellida) and Bryozoa (Ordovician Stenolaemata) possessed foliated ultrastructures.

Concepts: Reproduction, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Sponge, Cambrian explosion, Bryozoa, Ordovician, Lophotrochozoa


Facultative parthenogenesis - the ability of sexually reproducing species to sometimes produce offspring asexually - is known from a wide range of ordinarily sexually reproducing vertebrates in captivity, including some birds, reptiles and sharks [1-3]. Despite this, free-living parthenogens have never been observed in any of these taxa in the wild, although two free-living snakes were recently discovered each gestating a single parthenogen - one copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and one cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) [1]. Vertebrate parthenogens are characterized as being of the homogametic sex (e.g., females in sharks, males in birds) and by having elevated homozygosity compared to their mother [1-3], which may reduce their viability [4]. Although it is unknown if either of the parthenogenetic snakes would have been carried to term or survived in the wild, facultative parthenogenesis might have adaptive significance [1]. If this is true, it is reasonable to hypothesize that parthenogenesis would be found most often at low population density, when females risk reproductive failure because finding mates is difficult [5]. Here, we document the first examples of viable parthenogens living in a normally sexually reproducing wild vertebrate, the smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). We also provide a simple approach to screen any microsatellite DNA database for parthenogens, which will enable hypothesis-driven research on the significance of vertebrate parthenogenesis in the wild.

Concepts: Reproduction, Female, Reptile, Asexual reproduction, Parthenogenesis, Agkistrodon contortrix, Agkistrodon piscivorus, Smalltooth sawfish