A new creature has been developed in a lab that can reproduce asexually, essentially replicating itself whenever it needs to do so. The creature was made by combining two different species of lizard together resulting in an entirely new species that can reproduce asexually essentially by cloning itself. And so as science develops yet another genetically unique creature, we’re left asking just how big a step for science this could be. And what does it mean for the future?
It’s been no secret for scientists that several species can reproduce and result in third species. So why isn’t our world overrun with hybrid creatures if the genetic pool can occasionally result in offspring that is neither species of the parent? It’s not quite so simple. In reality, the offspring are generally sterile. Not so with whiptail lizards. It’s interesting to note that whiptails can reproduce by themselves without any influence from an outside male. They simply lay their eggs and wait until they hatch. As the eggs hatch, the offspring are exact replicas of the mother with no change whatsoever. One of the strangest parts of this is even though whiptails seem to have evolved from the very primitive ancestral primordial ooze all life seems to have eventually evolved from, it is not in fact evolving currently. At least that’s what scientists are speculating on. As the parent is an exact copy of the offspring, it’s difficult or impossible to tell if any genetic variation is taking place in the creatures themselves. Generally mutations arise from offspring due to a number of causes, but include slight variations on the traits from both parents. And what traits eventually get passed on is partially decided by things such as how well each offspring survives and is able to reproduce in the environment afterward. So if a species were to reproduce asexually and survive, the latter half of the selection process would no longer be a requirement.
So scientists at Kansas’ Stowers Institute for Medical Research combined two species of lizards and essentially created a new hybrid that could not only reproduce, but do it through parthenogenesis – the same process used by the whiptail lizard to allow it to reproduce without mating. The research was published in a recent paper authored by the project’s lead researcher Peter Baumann. By doing this you may start to wonder just what the scientists were trying to achieve, but the truth is there is still a big gap in our understanding of just how asexual reproducers could have evolved. Through this experiment they are hoping to shed some light on the subject.
So will parthenogenesis ever become a human trait? Interestingly it could one day happen – although only with the assistance of technology. If cloning research ever got to the level where humans could create exact replicas of themselves that were in every way genetically exact, then it’s possible. Still we have many years to go before we start seeing the first human clones. And even if we were to reach that level technologically, would it be a step we would want to take? It’s certainly on the list of things we will want to take into consideration in the future.