Female salamander gang invades local turf to steal chromosomes!


Local scientist featured on Science Friday! Our newest addition to the biology discipline, Rob Denton, appeared on SciFri for his work on unisexual salamanders. This species only has females — they don’t need male chromosomes to reproduce. However, they do need sperm to initiate development, so they wander about the ponds picking up sperm from alien species to trigger their own egg cells.

Their other cool trick is that, although they don’t need that sperm’s chromosome content to make babies, they will sometimes incorporate a few chromosomes from alien species on top of their own, so that maybe they can acquire a few locally adapted genes. It’s cool stuff, but watch the video to get the full story.

If you want to learn more, check out the Denton lab website, or pester @RD_Denton. He’s got nothing better to do other than run his summer research and work hard to earn tenure, so ask him questions!

Comments

  1. Chelydra says

    It’s weirder than that – they don’t incorporate just a few chromosomes, they acquire and/or dump full sets from among the five species without any crossing over, and apparently have no nuclear DNA to call their own. The only apparent rule is that at least one set is always from a blue-spotted salamander, but even that is readily swapped for a new set from a blue-spotted male.

  2. doubter says

    “Incels hate them! Feminazi salamanders avoid mating with this one weird trick!”

  3. Ichthyic says

    incorporate a few chromosomes from alien species on top of their own

    yikes.

    Back in the days of yore, when I was a lowly undergrad, all the textbooks said only bacteria pulled that stunt.

    I’m gonna have to read this paper.

  4. Ichthyic says

    they don’t incorporate just a few chromosomes, they acquire and/or dump full sets from among the five species without any crossing over, and apparently have no nuclear DNA to call their own

    mind. blown.

  5. Sean Boyd says

    This is one of those things that causes, for me, regret that I didn’t study biology in college.

  6. PaulBC says

    🎶Mama don’t take my chromosome away… 🎶 (Sorry, it’s not often I get to use that.)
    Weird stuff. It does show the gap between what people are taught is “supposed to happen” in biology and what actually can happen, if only rarely.

  7. davidnangle says

    This is how The Thing got started, isn’t it?

    It’s definitely got a 50s SF vibe, even if it isn’t some sort of Amazon Women from Another Galaxy idea.

  8. fusilier says

    Aaaah….

    They aren’t “unisexual,” they are parthenogenetic. Ambystoma spp. are reasonably well-studied triploid salamanders.

    fusilier, wearing his retired Associate Professor’s hat

    James 2:24

  9. Chelydra says

    The common name used by those currently studying them is indeed “unisexual salamander”, as they are all females. They’re deemed “kleptogenetic/kleptogenic”, since they frequently “steal” the chromosomes of related species during reproduction.

  10. F.O. says

    I still don’t understand why people are so shocked about sexual reproduction’s success.
    To me it seems obvious that it is a fantastic way to put together different advantageous mutations, easily repaying for its large cost. What am I missing? =(

  11. PaulBC says

    @F.O. I think it’s shocking because it usually doesn’t work this way. You might equally ask why promiscuous gene stealing doesn’t happen more often. “Why” is almost always the wrong question in science, but whatever the advantage of this strategy, it’s not widespread.

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