Sexual reproduction is a composite, not a singular, phenomenon and as such can be subdivided into a number of componentsi.e. fusion, recombination, fission, and the male-female phenomenon. These components can evolve independently, though any evolutionary change in one component is likely to influence the future evolution of the other components. The ambiguity that surrounds the term ‘sex’ due to a failure to recognise the composite nature of sexual reproduction has led to considerable confusion in past discussions of the evolution of the phenomenon. This paper considers the possible chronological interaction of the components of sexual reproduction both with each other and with the sequence of selective pressures that seem likely to have acted. This chronological approach is used to consider: the origin of sexual reproduction; the evolution of sexual reproduction in the common ancestor of the procaryotes and eucaryotes; the modification of the ancestral system in the procaryote line following the procaryote-eucaryote dichotomy; and the modification of the ancestral system in the eucaryote line up to the origin of the male-female phenomenon.
It is suggested that the fusion and recombination of the first living organisms were chronological continuations of the fusion and recombination of complex organic molecules that led up to the origin of life. The evolution of the third major component of sexual reproductioni.e. fission (replication), by definition coincided with the origin of life. Initial selection on the components of sexual reproduction are likely to have been related to the optimum manifestations of size, complexity, diversity, multiplication, and distribution. Resultant early evolutionary trends are likely to have been: selective fusion between more-similar organisms; increase in number of fissions per fusion; and less recombination.
The procaryote-eucaryote dichotomy is argued to have evolved in response to the increasing cellular problems of packing and replicating an increasing amount of hereditary material. The evolution of a single circular hereditary organelle in the procaryote line is argued to have led to the loss of total fusion and the specialisation of individuals into either donors or recipients. The donor-recipient phenomenon of procaryotes is directly analogous to the male-female phenomenon of eucaryotes and leads to parallel evolution due to sexual selection in both groups. In the eucaryote line the ancestral mechanism of sexual reproduction is argued to have persisted through, but to have been greatly modified by, the evolution of complex machinery (mitotic/meiotic) for the handling of multiple hereditary organelles at cell division and reduction division. The evolutionary modification of the ancestral system of sexual reproduction is suggested to have led in eucaryotes to the evolution of: the species phenomenon; allelic recombination; and the male-female phenomenon.
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Baker, R.R., Parker, G.A. The origin and evolution of sexual reproduction up to the evolution of the male-female phenomenon. Acta Biotheor 22, 49–77 (1973). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01601983