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Geckos: It's not always about sex

(Portland, Ore.)--Usually when you give up something, there's a price to pay. Not so in the case of the Australian Bynoe's gecko. This line of all-female geckos doesn't need sex or a male to reproduce and, contrary to expectations, these "Wonder Woman" geckos can run farther and faster than their sexually reproducing relatives. The research findings are published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology (Vol. 78, 3, May/June 2005) by Michael Kearney, Rebecca Wahl and Kellar Autumn.

"This is extraordinary," said Autumn, associate professor of biology at Lewis & Clark College and member of the research team. "The traditional theory is that when a species gives up sex and reproduces through cloning, the offspring will have reduced performance."

Parthenogenetic creatures are all-female species. Their "clonal" way of reproducing means that a mother's babies are genetically identical to her. A further twist to the story is that many parthenogentic species, including the Bynoe's gecko, evolved when two species crossed, or hybridized, said Michael Kearney. He is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Centre for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Kearney's interest in geckos started during his undergraduate years in Australia. As a Fulbright Graduate Fellow, Kearney studied with Autumn at Lewis & Clark College.

"This makes them a bit like mules, which are a cross between a horse and a donkey," said Kearney. "Mules are very robust animals, but they cannot reproduce." Kearney's research suggested that the hybrid forms of Bynoe's geckos could not only reproduce through parthenogenesis, but were "super tough," just like a mule.

Kearney shipped Bynoe's geckos from Sydney, Australia to Autumn's research lab in Portland, Oregon. There, Kearney, Autumn and Rebecca Wahl put the lizards through their paces on a state-of-the-art lizard treadmill. As the geckos walked in the
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Contact: Tania Thompson
taniat@lclark.edu
503-768-7961
Lewis & Clark College
7-Jun-2005


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