Friday, February 26, 2010

Promiscuous females may be the key to a species' survival

Known as polyandry among scientists, the phenomenon of females having multiple mates is shared across most animal species, from insects to mammals. Polyandry may reduce the risk of populations becoming extinct because of all-female broods being born. This can sometimes occur as a result of a sex-ratio distortion (SR) chromosome, which results in all of the Y chromosome-carrying sperm being killed before fertilization. The all-female offspring will carry the SR chromosome, which will be passed on to their sons in turn resulting in more all-female broods. Eventually there will be no males and the population will die out. Scientists have found that having multiple mates can suppress the spread of the SR chromosome, making all-female broods a rarity. This is because males that carry the SR chromosome produce only half as many sperm as normal males. When a female mates with multiple males, their sperm will compete to fertilize her eggs. The few sperm produced by males carrying the SR chromosome are out-competed by the sperm from normal males, and the SR chromosome cannot spread.

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