Origin of sex

Harris Bernstein, Henry C. Byerly, Frederic A. Hopf, Richard E. Michod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The competitive advantage of sex consists in being able to use redundancy to recover lost genetic information while minimizing the cost of redundancy. We show that the major selective forces acting early in evolution lead to RNA protocells in which each protocell contains one genome, since this maximizes the growth rate. However, damages to the RNA which block replication and failure of segregation make it advantageous to fuse periodically with another protocell to restore reproductive ability. This early, simple form of genetic recovery is similar to that occurring in extant segmented single stranded RNA viruses. As duplex DNA became the predominant form of the genetic material, the mechanism of genetic recovery evolved into the more complex process of recombinational repair, found today in a range of species. We thus conclude that sexual reproduction arose early in the evolution of life and has had a continuous evolutionary history. We cite reasons to reject arguments for gaps in the evolutionary sequence of sexual reproduction based on the presumed absence of sex in the cyanobacteria. Concerning the maintenance of the sexual cycle among current organisms, we take care to distinguish between the recombinational and outbreeding aspects of the sexual cycle. We argue that recombination, whether it be in outbreeding organisms, self-fertilizing organisms or automictic parthenogens, is maintained by the advantages of recombinational repair. We also discuss the role of DNA repair in maintaining the outbreeding aspects of the sexual cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-351
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 7 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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