Sexual reproduction is a union that results in increasing genetic diversity of the offspring. It is characterized by two processes: meiosis, involving the halving of the number of chromosomes; and fertilization, involving the fusion of two gametes and the restoration of the original number of chromosomes. During meiosis, the chromosomes of each pair usually cross over to achieve genetic recombination.
The evolution of sex is a major puzzle. The first fossilized evidence of sexually reproducing organisms is from eukaryotes of the Stenian period, about 1.2 to 1 billion years ago. Sexual reproduction is the primary method of reproduction for the vast majority of visible organisms, including almost all animals and plants. Bacterial conjugation, the transfer of DNA between two bacteria, is often mistakenly confused with sexual reproduction, because the mechanics are similar.
A major question is why sexual reproduction persists when parthenogenesis appears in some ways to be a superior form of reproduction. Contemporary evolutionary thought proposes some explanations. It may be due to selection pressure on the clade itself—the ability for a population to radiate more rapidly due to a changing environment through sexual recombination than parthenogenesis allows. Alternatively, sexual reproduction may allow for the 'ratcheting' of evolutionary speed as one clade competes with another for a limited resource.
Reproduction in plants
In flowering plants, the anther produces male gametophytes, the sperm is produced in pollen grains, which attach to the stigma on top of a carpel, in which the female gametophytes (inside ovules) are located. After the pollen tube grows through the carpel's style, the sperm cell nuclei from the pollen grain migrate into the ovule to fertilize the egg cell and endosperm nuclei within the female gametophyte in a process termed double fertilization. The resulting zygote develops into an embryo, while the triploid endosperm (one sperm cell plus two female cells) and female tissues of the ovule give rise to the surrounding tissues in the developing seed. The ovary, which produced the female gametophyte(s), then grows into a fruit, which surrounds the seed(s). Plants may either self-pollinate or cross-pollinate. Nonflowering plants like ferns, moss and liverworts use other means of sexual reproduction.
Reproduction in mammals
There are three kind of mammals; Monotremes, Placentals and Marsupials, all with internal fertilisation yet do still differ from each other. In placental mammals, offspring are born as juveniles: complete animals with the sex organs present although not reproductively functional. After several months or years, the sex organs develop further to maturity and the animal becomes sexually mature. Most female mammals are only fertile during certain periods and during those times, they are said to be "in heat". At this point, the animal is ready to mate. Individual male and female mammals meet and carry out copulation. For most mammals, males and females exchange sexual partners throughout their adult lives.
The mammalian male
The male reproductive system contains two main divisions: the penis, and the testes, the latter of which is where sperm are produced. In humans, both of these organs are outside the abdominal cavity, but they can be primarily housed within the abdomen in other animals (for instance, in dogs, the penis is internal except when mating). Having the testes outside the abdomen best facilitates temperature regulation of the sperm, which require specific temperatures to survive.
Sperm are the smaller of the two gametes and are generally very short-lived, requiring males to produce them continuously from the time of sexual maturity until death. Prior to ejaculation the produced sperm are stored in the seminal vesicle, a small gland that is located just behind the bladder.
A sperm cell is motile and swims via chemotaxis, using its flagellum to propel itself towards the ovum.
The mammalian female
Template:Seedetails The female reproductive system likewise contains two main divisions: the vagina and uterus, which act as the receptacle for the sperm, and the ovaries, which produce the female's ova. All of these parts are always internal. The vagina is attached to the uterus through the cervix, while the uterus is attached to the ovaries via the Fallopian tubes. At certain intervals, the ovaries release an ovum, which passes through the fallopian tube into the uterus.
If, in this transit, it meets with sperm, the sperm penetrate and merge with the egg, fertilizing it. The fertilization usually occurs in the oviducts, but can happen in the uterus itself. The zygote then implants itself in the wall of the uterus, where it begins the processes of embryogenesis and morphogenesis. When developed enough to survive outside the womb, the cervix dilates and contractions of the uterus propel the fetus through the birth canal, which is the vagina.
The ova are larger than sperm and are generally all created by birth. They are for the most part stationary, aside from their transit to the uterus, and contain nutrients for the later zygote and embryo. Over a regular interval, a process of oogenesis matures one ovum to be sent down the Fallopian tube attached to its ovary in anticipation of fertilization. If not fertilized, this egg is flushed out of the system through menstruation in humans and great apes and reabsorbed in all other mammals in the estrus cycle.
Gestation, called pregnancy in humans, is the period of time during which the fetus develops, dividing via mitosis inside the female. During this time, the fetus receives all of its nutrition and oxygenated blood from the female, filtered through the placenta, which is attached to the fetus' abdomen via an umbilical cord. This drain of nutrients can be quite taxing on the female, who is required to ingest significantly higher levels of calories. In addition, certain vitamins and other nutrients are required in greater quantities than normal, often creating abnormal eating habits. The length of gestation, called the gestation period, varies greatly from species to species; it is 38 weeks in humans, 56–60 in giraffes and 16 days in hamsters.
Once the fetus is sufficiently developed, chemical signals start the process of birth, which begins with contractions of the uterus and the dilation of the cervix. The fetus then descends to the cervix, where it is pushed out into the vagina, and eventually out of the female. The newborn, which is called an infant in humans, should typically begin respiration on its own shortly after birth. Not long after, the placenta is passed as well. Most mammals eat this, as it is a good source of protein and other vital nutrients needed for caring for the young. The end of the umbilical cord attached to the young’s abdomen eventually falls off on its own.
Monotremes, only five species of which exist, all from Australia and New Guinea, lay eggs. They have one opening for excretion and reproduction called the cloaca. They hold the eggs internally for several weeks, providing nutrients, and then lay them and cover them like birds. After less than two weeks the young hatches and crawls into its mother’s pouch, much like marsupials, where it nurses for several weeks as it grows.
Marsupials reproduce in essentially the same manner, though their young are born at a far earlier stage of development than other mammals. After birth, marsupial joeys crawl into their mother’s pouch and attach to a teat, where they receive nourishment and finish developing into self-sufficient animals.
The vast majority of fish species lay eggs that are then fertilized by the male, some species lay their eggs on a substrate like a rock or on plants, while others scatter their eggs and the eggs are fertilized as they drift or sink in the water column. Some fish species use internal fertilization and then disperse the developing eggs or give birth to live offspring. Fishes that have live-bearing offspring include the Guppy and Mollies or Poecilia. Fishes that give birth to live young can be ovoviviparous, were the eggs are fertilized within the female and the eggs simply hatch within the female body, or they can be viviparous, were the female supplies nourishment to the internally growing offspring.
- Asexual reproduction
- Biological reproduction
- Flowering plant
- Sex organ
- Sexual intercourse
- ↑ Orgel, Leslie E. "The Origin of Life on the Earth". Scientific American. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Pang, K. "Certificate Biology: New Mastering Basic Concepts", Hong Kong, 2004
- Journal of Biology of Reproduction, accessed in August 2005.
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