What will ET look like when we meet him/her/it?

Posts tagged ‘Reproduction’

Dad: Do NOT read this post!

I love you but I’m serious, Dad.  Turn off the computer now.  Mom, I love you too, but you also need to not read this.

Ok, now that my sensitive parental units have left the virtual room, it is also time to say this post has content that some would term “mature”.  So anyone under 18 needs parental guidance in order to read this post.  (Sorry youngest sibling, you’re out of luck.)  Thank you.

*elevator music*

Not that long ago, I was reading the Cosmo website (I ran out of books OK?? I almost DIED before I got to the bookstore!!) and I found an article touting the song Everlasting Light by the Black Keys as great sex music.  You know what?  It’s totally true!  When I (and an unnamed male) tested this hypothesis, I was not, Not, NOT thinking about evolution, reproduction or even my original hypothesis.  My higher brain functions weren’t even really a part of the process at that point.

Insects mating on a liatris flower head.

Insects mating on a liatris flower head. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)However, I recently heard the song again.  At first, I thought about the night I (and another) tested Cosmo’s hypothesis.  Who wouldn’t?  But then I started thinking about sexual reproduction.  How sexual reproduction has led to enormous variation.  Why sexual reproduction is great.  And then I thought, would intelligent species need sexual reproduction?  Which pretty much transported my whole sexy thought process into a new, strange, geeky dimension.

I recently read a really funny (and really accessible!) evolutionary biology book called “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation”.  In it, “Dr. Tatiana” dispenses advice on strange penises, monogamy, sex ratios, complex mating rituals, parental care and more, all the while explaining scientific concepts and making readers giggle hysterically.  The most relevant chapter to this post had to do with asexual reproduction.  Many people confuse sexual reproduction with internal fertilization.  The book defined sexual reproduction as exchanging genetic material with another.  Fish that spawn, bacteria that lyse and allow their genetic material to be taken in by other bacteria, flowers that use bees as an intermediary, all participate in sexual reproduction.  Internal fertilization is what humans (and many other animals) do in order to complete the process of exchanging genetic material.

Asexual reproduction is not that rare.  Certain plants, animals, and single celled organisms participate.  The interesting ones, however, had sexual reproduction in the past and evolved asexual reproduction.  The book provides many examples of this exact phenomenon.  Why?  What is so great about asexual reproduction?  Asexual females (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?) only need to produce 1 baby to keep the population stable compared to the 2 babies a sexual female needs to produce.  Additionally, all that energy and time sexual beings waste trying to find a mate and doing the deed?  Completely unnecessary.

If asexual reproduction is so great, why don’t we all do it?  Our planet is variable.  Not only do seasons and weather vary in most places, but scientists are discovering cycles in temperature and precipitation that occur on geologic time scales.  Our predecessors evolved sex in order to create variability in their offspring. One of us might get lucky and have a gene that supports survival when the environment changes to X.   We as sexual beings have more variation among ourselves than do asexual beings.  Therefore, when environments are stable, sexual reproduction is kind of a pain.  However, when environments are variable, sex is great.  Extra-terrestrials would not need sex if their environment was stable (or only variable enough for mutation to take care of any issues).   On the other hand, Cosmo would totally not translate to intelligent asexual beings!  Maybe that’s a good thing.

Next post subjects: would life in a stable environment evolve past primordial ooze stage and what level of variability is good for the evolution of intelligent life?  Also, the Drake equation, the Fermi paradox and SETI.

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