After more than a century of intensive study, scientists have assumed that larvae of non-parasitic invertebrates reproduce only very rarely, but new research by University of Alberta scientists overthrows this conventional wisdom. Graduate student Alexandra Eaves and Dr. Richard Palmer, from the U of As Faculty of Science, have found that asexual cloning by some marine invertebrate larvae is not as rare and enigmatic a phenomenon as previously assumed.
"A wealth of knowledge of how embryos grow has come from studying sea urchin development," said Eaves. "The discovery that these young animals can clone themselves provides an exceedingly rare opportunity to examine how a growing animal can repeat its own early development using a part of its body."
Scattered earlier reports have observed that invertebrate larvae can spontaneously clone but Eaves and Palmer discovered this trait in three new echinoderm groups--sea cucumbers, sand dollars, and sea urchins--offering surprising new insight about chordate evolution. Larval cloning represents an intriguing new dimension to invertebrate life histories including the suggestion that clones may subsequently clone. The research is published in the current edition of the prestigious journal Nature.
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