1.1 Asexual Reproduction

In this method, a single individual (parent) is capable of producing offspring. As a result, the offspring that are produced are not only identical to one another but are also exact copies of their parent. Are these offspring likely to be genetically identical or different?

The term clone is used to describe such morphologically and genetically similar individuals. Let us see how widespread asexual reproduction is, among different groups of organisms.

Asexual reproduction is common among single-celled organisms, and in plants and animals with relatively simple organisations. In Protists and Monerans, the organism or the parent cell divides into two to give rise to new individuals. Thus, in these organisms cell division is itself a mode of reproduction.

Many single-celled organisms reproduce by binary fission, where a cell divides into two halves and each rapidly grows into an adult (e.g., Amoeba, Paramecium). In yeast, the division is unequal and small buds are produced that remain attached initially to the parent cell which, eventually gets separated and mature into new yeast organisms (cells).

Members of the Kingdom Fungi and simple plants such as algae reproduce through special asexual reproductive structures. The most common of these structures are zoospores that usually are microscopic motile structures. Other common asexual reproductive structures are conidia (Penicillium), buds (Hydra) and gemmules (sponge).

You have learnt about vegetative reproduction in plants in Class XI. What do you think – Is vegetative reproduction also a type of asexual reproduction? Why do you say so? Is the term clone applicable to the offspring formed by vegetative reproduction?

While in animals and other simple organisms the term asexual is used unambiguously, in plants, the term vegetative reproduction is frequently used. In plants, the units of vegetative propagation such as runner, rhizome, sucker, tuber, offset, bulb are all capable of giving rise to new offspring. These structures are called vegetative propagules. Obviously, since the formation of these structures does not involve two parents, the process involved is asexual.

You must have heard about the scourge of the water bodies or about the ‘terror of Bengal’. This is nothing but the aquatic plant ‘water hyacinth’ which is one of the most invasive weeds found growing wherever there is standing water. It drains oxygen from the water, which leads to death of fishes.

You will learn more about it in Chapters 13 and 14. You may find it interesting to know that this plant was introduced in India because of its beautiful flowers and shape of leaves. Since it can propagate vegetatively at a phenomenal rate and spread all over the water body in a short period of time, it is very difficult to get rid off them.

Are you aware how plants like potato, sugarcane, banana, ginger, dahlia are cultivated? Have you seen small plants emerging from the buds (called eyes) of the potato tuber, from the rhizomes of banana and ginger?

When you carefully try to determine the site of origin of the new plantlets in the plants listed above, you will notice that they invariably arise from the nodes present in the modified stems of these plants.

When the nodes come in contact with damp soil or water, they produce roots and new plants. Similarly, adventitious buds arise from the notches present at margins of leaves of Bryophyllum. This ability is fully exploited by gardeners and farmers for commercial propagation of such plants.

It is interesting to note that asexual reproduction is the common method of reproduction in organisms that have a relatively simple organisation, like algae and fungi and that they shift to sexual method of reproduction just before the onset of adverse conditions. Find out how sexual reproduction enables these organisms to survive during unfavourable conditions?

Why is sexual reproduction favoured under such conditions? Asexual (vegetative) as well as sexual modes of reproduction are exhibited by the higher plants. On the other hand, only sexual mode of reproduction is present in most of the animals.

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