New study highlights peculiar reproductive strategies of tiny plankton | 4/22/2013 | Staff
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Flourishing in spectacular numbers in lakes and ponds around the world, tiny creatures known as Daphnia play an essential role in freshwater ecology. Daphnia, a type of planktonic crustacean, are the primary consumers of algae and are an important food source for fish and other aquatic life.

Daphnia are ubiquitous in freshwater sources, but their mode of reproduction, known as cyclic parthenogenesis—which involves alternating phases of both sexual and asexual reproduction— is an evolutionary puzzle. A further mystery surrounding Daphnia is that in some populations, up to 50% of females do not produce male offspring.

Arizona - State - University - Michael - Lynch

Now, Arizona State university's Michael Lynch and his colleagues, including lead author Zhiqiang Ye, believe they have identified a variation in a single gene (unique to Daphnia) that accounts for the non-male-producing (NMP) trait. Isolation of this NMP dominant allele sheds new light on the behavior of this important model organism as well as broader genetic mechanisms of male offspring production. Eventually, new insights into such mechanisms could spur innovations in fertility treatment or alternately, in pest management.

"What we discovered is that there are members of some Daphnia populations that are incapable of producing boys," Lynch says. "We have a chemical that we use called methyl farnesoate that we squirt in the water to induce male production and they don't even respond to that. So there are two flavors of individual in the population—one that produces daughters and sons and one that can only produce daughters."

Michael - Lynch - Biodesign - Center - Mechanisms

Michael Lynch directs the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and is a professor at ASU's School of Life Sciences. The group's research on Daphnia appears in the current issue of the journal PNAS.

Daphnia measure roughly 1-3 millimeters in length and feature prominent compound eyes sensitive to sunlight striking pond and lake surfaces, a durable carapace, antennae and a pair of hair-like...
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