09 December 2011

#SciFund: Practical Procambarus

We are getting down to the wire in the #SciFund challenge. Perhaps you have seen my project, but are not yet convinced. You may be asking, "Sure, this research on the crayfish is cool, but does it have any practical benefits?"

Here's one possibility.

Marbled crayfish reproduce asexually. One of the big mysteries about asexual reproduction is why so few species use it. In theory, asexual species should overrun sexual species by dint of numbers.

Think of a female who can have four offspring in her lifetime, on average. If this species reproduces asexually, she will have four daughters, and each of those daughters can have four daughters - sixteen grand-daughters of the original female. If this species reproduces sexually, she will probably have two sons and two daughters, and those two daughters will have four offspring - eight grand-offspring of the original female.

This imbalance in numbers would get bigger every generation, of course. This is a major cost to reproducing sexually.

This is a great scientific puzzle! It's one of many reasons why studying both a sexual and asexual species that are so closely related is so fascinating.

But I said I was going to talk about something that might be more practical.

There's plenty of crayfish aquaculture around the world. What if we found out a way to flip those farmed crayfish species from sexual reproduction to asexual reproduction? At least one other crayfish species seems to be able to flip between sexual and asexual reproduction. The potential increase in yield would be tremendous.

This would be a long-term goal. Lots of legwork would have to happen before we could even think about something like that.  There are reasons it might not work.

But we won't know until we try. That's the point of research, after all.

And that is today’s reason why you should go to RocketHub and fuel my #SciFund project!

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