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The Point of Sex -- Ward Off Parasites?

It is one of the mysteries of life -- what is the point of sex? Well, researchers now say they have an answer. It is to ward off parasites (not the answer you expected, right?).

According to a report in The Telegraph, researchers at the University of Indiana engineered two breeds of worms -- one that had to have sex to reproduce, and one that could clone itself.

They then exposed the worms to harmful bacteria. The worms that reproduced through sex survived, while those that were asexual died off.

The new study appears to back up a long-held evolutionary theory that the blending of two animals' genomes creates an offspring with a new genetic code. That new code enables the baby to be more resistant to attack from parasites, which are apparently forever evolving in an effort to infect everything.

Biologists dubbed it "Running with the Red Queen," a reference to the character in "Through the Looking-Glass" who tells Alice, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

"The Red Queen Hypothesis predicts that sex should allow hosts to evade infection from their parasites, whereas self-fertilization may increase the risk of infection," study co-author Curtis Lively said. "The co-evolutionary struggle between hosts and their parasites could explain the existence of males."


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