Starfish That Clone Themselves Live Longer Than Those That Have Sex

First Posted: Jun 25, 2015 01:45 PM EDT

Starfish that clone themselves actually live longer. Scientists have found that starfish that reproduce through cloning avoid aging to a greater extent than those that propagate through sexual reproduction.

In this latest study, the researchers investigated the telomere lengths and population genetics of a starfish, Coscinasterias tenuispina. The telomeres aer located at the ends of chromosomes, and affect the lifespan and health of an individual.

In this case, the researchers found that the starfish exhibited both asexual and sexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction involves the starfish dividing itself into two more parts, after which the new parts regenerate. The researchers wanted to find out whether the populations that clone themselves the most had better health. In the end, the researchers found that there was a clear positive link between long telomeres and the level of cloning.

"Our results from the genetic markers show that the starfish are more inclined to clone themselves in the Mediterranean," said Helen Nilsson Skold, one of the researchers in a news release. "In actual fact, there only appears to be a single clone off the Spanish Costa Brava. In the Atlantic, however, sexual reproduction is more common."

So why does this occur? It's likely that the rejuvenation of the telomeres in connection with the formation of new tissue during cloning probably helps keep the starfish in relatively good health.

"The strengths of our study are that we have confirmed these results in a completely different animal group, and that our data comes from wild populations," said Nilsson Skold.

The findings are published in the journal Heredity.

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