Damaging DNA can be eliminated by mating

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Animals who attract a mate for sexual reproduction are rewarded for their efforts by eliminating potentially harmful DNA in the future, according to scientists.

A new study shows that animals and plants that reproduce sexually are at a considerable advantage to those species, such as some insects and reptiles, that reproduce without a partner.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied sexual reproduction in tiny fruit flies to learn more about how DNA is randomly shuffled when the genes of two parents combine to create a new individual.

They found that this recombination of genetic material allows for damaging elements of DNA, which might cause disease or other potential drawbacks, to be weeded out within a few generations.

The study suggests individuals who inherit healthy genes tend to flourish and pass on their DNA to the next generation, while weaker individuals are more likely to die without reproducing.

The team said the findings, made possible by genome sequencing technology, provide strong evidence to back up a long-standing theory that sexual reproduction, rather than asexual cloning of an individual, has long-term benefits for a species.

They studied how the DNA of fruit flies is affected when the recombination of DNA does not occur and found that harmful DNA quickly accumulates, making the species weaker overall in the long term.

Researchers say the findings may help the development of crop species with high yields.