Sex, Stress, and Free Radicals

Just-published research provides supporting evidence for the “DNA repair” hypothesis about why there’s sex. Evolutionary theorists have a problem with sex – it reduces the pool of reproducing organisms. (If you have 100 people, 50 men and 50 women, you can kill 49 of the guys and the reproductive capacity of the overall group doesn’t change. This is a prime reason why when it comes to sex, men behave as they usually do and women behave as they usually do.) The standard explanation for sex has been that it allows gene mixing and adaptation – fitting better into your environment. But many researchers believe that doesn’t make sense. Most mutations are bad, and if you survived long enough to reproduce in a world that changes slowly, the best strategy should be to try to replicate yourself exactly. The opposite of sex.
An alternate view is that sex is good for DNA repair: offspring of sexual unions are healthier and more parasite-free than those of asexual reproduction. New research strongly supports this view by showing that increasing the DNA-damaging free radicals in the internal environment of algae causes them to switch from asexual to sexual reproduction. Their little algae pheromones go crazy. Excellent work by Aurora M. Nedelcu and collegues.
What does this have to do with running? Intense exercise releases free radicals within our systems. Since sex is a pretty old invention in evolutionary terms, the inference would be that the same response to free radicals as exists in algae probalby exists in some form in us. Yow!
More info here. (6/11)

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