A Very Different Kind of Selfie

Human sexuality is obviously complicated. But it’s a mistake to think that, if you could somehow strip away human culture, sex would get simple. Even if you could find the simplest animal out there with a sex life, you wouldn’t find that imaginary simplicity.

This week I’ve written an essay on just such an animal, the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. With only a thousand cells in its entire body, the worm is unquestionably simple But it’s also arguably the best-studied animal on the planet. And yet its sex life–featuring self-fertilizing hermaphrodites with some males on the side–remains bizarrely mysterious.

I’ve written an essay for the online magazine Evolution: This View of Life on C. elegans, its strangely complicated sex life, and how that sex life–like other things in biology–is only starting to make sense in the light of evolution. Check it out.

3 thoughts on “A Very Different Kind of Selfie

  1. I thought it had already been established that the advantage of 2 sexes is to produce variety in defense against disease. It’s well known that plants that are sterile and reproduce via cuttings (domestic bananas, for example) are more prone to disease than wild, seedy bananas. So C. Elegans must not face much disease. Do we know anything of their ills?

  2. @Roland If there are males mixed in it must mean that the population is both sexual and asexual – like those plant examples. I would think that if any disease affects a significant portion of the population the males would immediately provide the genetic diversity required to overcome.

  3. I gather from wikipedia that the microphotograph shows a stain of neuron cells, by my count less than a dozen per individual. Yet similar enough to humans that it is a model organism for nicotine addiction apparently…

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