Bdelloid rotifers: ‘sleeping beauties’ and ‘evolutionary scandals’, but not only

Abstract

Bdelloid rotifers are mostly known for two peculiarities, continuous parthenogenetic reproduction and dormancy in response to habitat desiccation, a phenomenon named anhydrobiosis. These uncommon traits earned them the names of ‘evolutionary scandals’ and ‘sleeping beauties’, respectively. Relevant aspects of bdelloid biology have recently been described that connect parthenogenesis to anhydrobiosis and that might account for their evolutionary survival in spite of the conservative reproduction. In the present study, I explore recent literature, in the attempt to disentangle the apparent incongruency between the apomictic reproduction and the presumed long-term evolutionary survival of bdelloid species. Recent results remarkably improved our knowledge of bdelloid population biology, genetics, and molecular biology. The most relevant findings concern (i) acquisition of foreign genes through horizontal transfer, (ii) presence of divergent sequences possibly corresponding to ancient gene duplications and (iii) capacity to escape parasites: events that appear to be connected with dormancy. I also address the results of recent studies on the relationships between bdelloids and other rotifers, including acanthocephalans, in an attempt to highlight similarities and differences that should be clarified to better understand phylogenetic relationship among the Rotifera sensu lato.

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Acknowledgments

The author thanks the organizing committee of the Rotifer International Symposium, and chiefly Miloslav Devetter, for the kind invitation to offer a ‘personal’ story and contribution to bdelloid rotifers research. The author thanks Hans Ramløv who, together with Nadia Santo, produced the metabolism graph in his lab and is allowing me to use it. Indications about the dormancy of Nematodes and Tardigrades came from Aldo Zullini and Roberto Bertolani, colleagues who I wish to thank. The author also thanks Charles King for his comments, suggestions and revision of an earlier version of the manuscript and her husband, Giulio Melone, for his continuous, silent encouragements. Anonymous referees greatly contributed to the improvement of the clarity of my contribution, and I wish to thank them for the generous help.

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Guest editors: M. Devetter, D. Fontaneto, C. D. Jersabek, D. B. Mark Welch, L. May & E. J. Walsh / Evolving rotifers, evolving science

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Ricci, C. Bdelloid rotifers: ‘sleeping beauties’ and ‘evolutionary scandals’, but not only. Hydrobiologia 796, 277–285 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-016-2919-z

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Keywords

  • Dormancy
  • Apomictic parthenogenesis
  • Adaptation
  • Monogononts
  • Seisonids