When you think about it, asexual reproduction may sound like an oxymoron, but there are many organisms that are able to produce offspring without the help of a partner. Whilst impossible in most mammals such as ourselves, it can be observed across the animal kingdom. From small single-cell bacteria, to various plants and even several animal species, asexual reproduction is a lot more prevalent than you may think.
Of course, every organism has a different way to reproduce in such a way. Most cells reproduce without a sexual partner, let that be our own skin cells or different types of bacteria. For the most part, cells are able to reproduce asexually through meiosis, when chromosomes duplicate to create new cells, which are exactly similar to the parent cell. Other forms of such reproduction include conjugation, transformation and transduction.
In plants, this happens on a larger scale, where pups or bulbs are created from a parent plant, creating a colony. Again, these plants are all similar, and essentially, the plant is cloning itself through these extensions of itself. Other plants are able to duplicate themselves thanks to sporogenisis – the act of producing spores — which can then produce a new organism after dispersal, common in algae and some fungi.
Larger animals, such as certain sharks and reptiles, are also able to reproduce asexually. Sharks give birth to live young, and until recently were assumed to only be able to produce offspring through sexual reproduction with a partner. After different species were able to deliver babies in captivity without any type of interaction with a male shark, it was discovered that they could indeed reproduce asexually. Although they haven’t been able to observe this in the wild, marine biologists believe it might be a lot more prevalent than previously thought.
Specific snake species have also exhibited such behaviour in captivity, often times displaying some sort of developmental abnormally – which has been absent from sharks. In both cases, reptiles and sharks impregnated themselves, but whilst biologists have been able to determine asexual reproduction can be switched on/off in snakes, they have yet to make that determination in sharks.
Asexual reproduction continues to be a fairly unusual reproduction technique, one that our physiology and biology prevents us from achieving, but it certainly paints an interesting picture as to the evolutionary pathway and survival of the other animals that make up Earth’s intricate and expansive biodiversity.