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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34472. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034472. Epub 2012 Apr 18.

Going solo: discovery of the first parthenogenetic gordiid (Nematomorpha: Gordiida).

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Center for Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America.


Despite the severe fitness costs associated with sexual reproduction, its persistence and pervasiveness among multicellular organisms testifies to its intrinsic, short-term advantages. However, the reproductive assurance hypothesis predicts selection favoring asexual reproduction in sparse populations and when mate finding is difficult. Difficulties in finding mates is especially common in parasites, whose life cycles involve multiple hosts, or being released from the host into the external environment where the parasite can find itself trapped without a sexual partner. To solve this problem and guarantee reproduction, parasites in numerous phyla have evolved reproductive strategies, as predicted by the reproductive assurance hypothesis, such as hermaphroditism or parthenogenesis. However, this type of strategy has not been reported from species in the phylum Nematomorpha, whose populations have often been described as sparse. A new Nematomorpha species, Paragordius obamai n. sp., was discovered from Kenya, Africa, and appears to have solved the problem of being trapped without a mate by eliminating the need for males. Paragordius obamai n. sp. represents the first and only known species within this phylum to reproduce asexually. To determine the mechanism of this mating strategy, we ruled out the involvement of reproduction manipulating endosymbionts by use of next generation sequencing data, thus suggesting that parthenogenesis is determined genetically and may have evolved as a means to assure reproduction. Since this new parthenogenetic species and a closely related gonochoristic North American congener, P. varius, are easy to propagate in the laboratory, these gordiids can be used as model systems to test hypotheses on the genetic advantages and disadvantages of asexual reproduction and the genetic determinants of reproductive strategies in parasites.

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