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Need sex? It's probably something about stress

cells, about every two days when conditions are good.

As the summer progresses and ponds start heating up and drying out, the colonies become sexual. The sexual colonies have specialized sperm and egg cells that merge to form tough spores that persist until the dried-out pond fills again the following spring. When the spores germinate, the genetic machinery goes through a process called meiosis, which repairs and mixes up the DNA from the parents' sperm and eggs. The new colonies are asexual.

To simulate such late-summer conditions, Nedelcu put culture plates full of Volvox into water baths for two hours. At several points in time, she added a dye that fluoresces when exposed to oxidants. She then measured the fluorescence, which corresponded to the amount of oxidants the Volvox produced.

After only 10 minutes at 111 F (42.5 C), Volvox colonies had twice as many oxidants when compared with unheated colonies.

"This paper shows that sex is a response to oxidants," she said. "Sex evolved as a way to deal with stress and its consequences -- DNA-damaging oxidants."


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8-Jun-2004


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