Asexual reproduction is advantageous in allowing beneficial combinations of characteristics to continue unchanged and in eliminating the often vulnerable stages of early embryonic growth. It is found in most plants, bacteria, and protists and the lower invertebrates. In one-celled organisms it most commonly takes the form of fission, or mitosis, the division of one individual into two new and identical individuals. The cells thus formed may remain clustered together to form filaments (as in many fungi) or colonies (as in staphylococci and Volvox). Fragmentation is the process in filamentous forms in which a piece of the parent breaks off and develops into a new individual. Sporulation, or spore formation, is another means of asexual reproduction among protozoa and many plants. A spore is a reproductive cell that produces a new organism without fertilization. In some lower animals (e.g., hydra) and in yeasts, budding is a common form of reproduction; a small protuberance on the surface of the parent cell increases in size until a wall forms to separate the new individual, or bud, from the parent. Internal buds formed by sponges are called gemmules.
Regeneration is a specialized form of asexual reproduction; by regeneration some organisms (e.g., the starfish and the salamander) can replace an injured or lost part, and many plants are capable of total regeneration—i.e., the formation of a whole individual from a single fragment such as a stem, root, leaf, or even a small slip from such an organ (see cutting; grafting). F. C. Steward showed (1958) that single phloem cells from a carrot plant, when grown on an agar medium, would form a complete carrot plant. Among animals, the lower the form, the more capable it is of total regeneration; no vertebrates have this power, although clones of frogs (1962) and mammals (1996) have been produced in the laboratory from single somatic cells. Closely allied to regeneration is vegetative reproduction, the formation of new individuals by various parts of the organism not specialized for reproduction. In some plants structures that form on the leaves give rise to young plantlets. Rhizomes, bulbs, tubers, and stolons are other forms of vegetative reproduction.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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