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Friday, March 23, 2007

100 Million Years And No Sex: Brits Fascinated By Microbes That Live In Ohio's Sinks

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- British newspapers are rife with BIG STORIES and BIG HEADLINES about microscopic invertebrates that have learned to live without sex over the past 100 million years. The critters, bdelloid rotifers, are all females and have long teased scientists because they don't follow standard rules for procreation or evolution -- that it takes two to tango. Rotifers are found all over the place, including ponds and Ohio's kitchen and hospital sinks.

Yet the rotifers didn't swirl down the drain to extinction even though they learned to refrain from natural rhumbas. The Brits say the microbes' asexual breeding and evolution into 400 separate species has created a scientific headache -- a 100 million year headache. All other mating game headaches clearly pale by comparison.

Procter & Gamble researchers in Cincinnati studied rotifers a few years back with a team of British scientists and reported some of the microbes lifestyle habits HERE. But the Ohio scientists didn't seem to have spent much time dwelling on the bugs' bedroom activities. More interested in soap suds and how they hung around drains with other types of bacteria. Not the Brits. According to today's Telegraph:

"Bdelloid rotifers are egg laying microscopic invertebrates -- widely distributed in mosses, streams and ponds -- which have managed to diverge into nearly 400 species without a scintilla of sex. A blank was drawn years ago by a major effort by a team at Harvard University to see if these creatures indulge in what scientists call cryptic sex, where the bdelloids were discreet, coupled infrequently, or sneaked off for a 'quick one.'

"Now a new study, published today in the journal PLoS biology, has confirmed the worst fears of scientists: the rotifers do indeed present a challenge to the assumption that sex is necessary
for organisms to diversify into species."

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