The tiny, all-female bdelloid rotifers have endured the past 80 million years without sex. New research shows that gobbling up foreign DNA from other simple life-forms might be the asexual animal’s secret to survival.
In the study, scientists discovered that up to 10 percent of the active genes in microscopic bdelloids comes from bacteria and other organisms like fungi and algae. The finding adds to “the weirdness of an already odd little creature,” said Alan Tunnacliffe, a University of Cambridge professor and lead author of the study.
“We don’t know how the gene transfer occurs, but it almost certainly involves ingesting DNA in organic debris, which their environments are full of,” Tunnacliffe explained in a statement. “Bdelloids will eat anything smaller than their heads!”
Many asexual creatures are thought to be doomed to extinction due to the lack of genetic diversity and build-up of mutations that often come with reproducing from just one parent’s DNA. But bdelloids have managed to avoid such pitfalls of asexual life, diversifying into at least 400 species.
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