This is the kind of news story that male writers wonder if they should bury in order to save future generations of men from extinction. A new study has identified a group of uni-gender female salamanders that reproduce by cloning and somehow occasionally ‘steal’ DNA from males to add a little variety to the gene pool without the need for sex. Not only that, they appear to be evolving into super-salamanders. Yikes!
On paper, it’s the perfect way to reproduce: there are no males to take up resources, every female gets to pass on all of her genetic material, but they still get a new shot of genetic variation occasionally.
Believe it or not, that excited comment is from Robert D. Denton,, a male biology doctoral candidate at the Ohio State University and a co-author of a recent paper in the Journal of Zoology on the line of unisexual females in the Ambystoma or mole salamander family. This mostly normal species has a range from southern Ohio north to Quebec. Within it, a small group of females has developed this self-cloning ability, possibly as a way to reproduce quickly without those tedious, time-consuming courtship rituals.
Actually, there isn’t much to courting or mating among the mole salamanders. They mate externally when the males leave little sperm packages around for the females to collect, fertilize themselves and lay eggs - the salamander version of Netflix and chill.
Except for the unisex lizards. These girls somehow just steal DNA from the packages (a process the researchers call “kleptogenesis” or “sneaky sex”) which triggers their egg-laying mechanism without fertilization. The babies carry all mommy-genes with an occasional added genome from a male for variety.
This process may be turning the females into super-salamanders as well. While all Ambystomas have limb-regeneration abilities, the researchers found that the unisex ones regrew detached tails and limbs 1.5 times as fast as normal, giving them an advantage against predators.
Will human females ever figure out unisexual reproduction and super-human body powers? Let’s hope the researchers left out a few key ingredients from their study. Then again, maybe women already know the secret and are just waiting for the right time.