University of Toronto
A longstanding question in evolutionary biology is: Why do species have sex? The answer may seem obvious, but asexual reproduction exists in nature. So, why did so many species evolve using sexual reproduction?
In most species, females provide most of the resources to produce offspring but only half the genes are theirs; males seem to get an evolutionary free ride. The problem is still more perplexing when we consider that natural selection should create an excess of individuals with the best combinations of genes. Why then shuffle genes each generation through sexual reproduction?
Aneil Agrawal is one of the world’s most promising evolutionary biologists and is conducting ground-breaking experiments that put longstanding theories to the test. The traditional theory of why organisms engage in sex is that they gain genetic traits for adapting to new environments. Despite this being a widely held theory, Dr. Agrawal’s study provided the first experimental evidence that sex evolves for this reason. This included providing evidence of the genetic mechanisms that account for how sex evolves and is maintained.
Dr. Agrawal, a 2013 recipient of an NSERC Steacie Fellowship, has also conducted transformative work in understanding the existence of harmful genetic mutations. He has investigated how such mutations enter populations and how different forms of selection remove them. This work adds to our understanding of the evolutionary consequences of the flow of harmful mutations through populations and could also have practical benefits in medicine.