Royal Society Publishing

Sex as a response to oxidative stress: the effect of antioxidants on sexual induction in a facultatively sexual lineage

Aurora M. Nedelcu, Richard E. Michod


The evolution of sex is one of the long-standing unsolved problems in biology. Although in many lineages sex is an obligatory part of the life cycle and is associated with reproduction, in prokaryotes and many lower eukaryotes, sex is facultative, occurs in response to stress and often involves the formation of a stress-resistant dormant form. The proximate and ultimate causes of the connection between stress and sex in facultatively sexual lineages are unclear. Because most forms of stress result in the overproduction of cellular reactive oxygen species (ROS), we address the hypothesis that this connection involves ROS and possibly reflects the ancestral role of sex as an adaptive response to the damaging effects of stress-induced ROS (i.e. oxidative stress). Here, we report that two antioxidants inhibit sexual induction in a facultatively sexual species—the multicellular green alga, Volvox carteri. Furthermore, the nature of the sex response and the effect of an iron chelator on sexual induction are consistent with sex being a response to the DNA-damaging effects of ROS. In addition, we present preliminary data to suggest that sex, cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis are alternative responses to increased levels of oxidative stress.

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