What is Sex? by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan
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Sex is genetic recombination, the formation of a new being recombining genes from at least two "parental" sources such as donor and recipient bacteria"
This book explores how sex, evolved from being a survival mechanism among early microscopic organisms to being an indispensable means of reproduction in more complex organisms. The relationship between reproduction and identity on this levels is also instructive. For microscopic organisms which did not depend on sex for reproduction the basically reproduced their sameness whereas sex among our more complex species ties reproduction with producing diversity. They had sex to diversify their genes within the same cell whereas for us sexual fusion is specialized within our being.
Sex is a powerful motive force in humanity. It is manipulated by businesses trying to cell all sorts of products. The main Western religions have for some time been wrestling with it. At times for many of us our whole body is engaged or consumed with the anticipation and, pursuance or engagement in the act. Millions of cells act together to get these sperm cells to go in pursuit of the female egg cell to allow reproduction to take place. The female body on the other hand prepares itself to receive and sort out those approaching cells. No doubt sex is a powerful motive force for mankind and that significant energy and attentions goes into the act and pursuance of that combining of cells.
So what is the purposes of sex? According to this exploration by Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis, this would depend on who you ask. A bacteria will answer very differently from a human being. A drone bee will answer very differently from bonobo chimpanzee. A Christian priest may answer very different from someone whose faith or non-faith approaches sexuality more freely Many things are different in how sex was experienced and what purpose it served among the earliest organisms which practiced sex. It is possible that the impulse is the same in some sense but we experience life from a very different perspective that single-celled organisms. For instance for many of the early microscopic life, sex was did not necessarily serve the purpose of reproduction. Sex was was not necessary for reproduction just as the majority of our cells do not require sex for their constant reproduction.
"In bacterial gene transfer, a donor bacterium passes one, a few genes or virtually its entire genetic endowment to its partner, and no reproduction or production of off spring is involved"
"If a species is defined, in the traditional manner, as a population of organisms that intrabreeds to form viable off spring, then bacteria do not qualify. They neither need to mate to reproduce nor are confined, when they do have sex, to pass genes to organisms within their own species."
Sex started out as a trading of genes for survival sake. It was one among various strategies used by early organisms to survive and thrive. Margulis and Sagan suggest that sex may have even evolved from early attempts by early organisms to consume other similar organisms.
"The doubling up of chromosome number by sexual fusion requires an evolutionary explanation. Cannibalism, a common phenomenon in the protoctist world, provides on: phagocytosis __ a fancy name for engulfment feeding -- is frequent. Engulfment of single cells by neighboring relatives during hard times brought miserable company together. When both "partners" survived the result was an evolutionary step intermediate between feeding and the fertilizational doubling of meiotic sex.
"IN the 1960s, Harvard biologist Lemuel Roscoe Cleveland studied Trichonympha, Barbulonumpha, and other protoctists. In one group, he discovered a type of cannibalism that could have been similar to the first serendipitous origin of fertilization in our microbial ancestors. Cleveland, from 1934 until his death in 1969, studied wood-digesting swimming protoctists known as hypermastigotes. He carefully observed what he referred to as his hairy men...when starved, they were drawn to feed on their fellows. The attraction, however was not sexual since these hypermastigotes routinely reproduce mitotically(through mitosis) without gender or sex"
As a survival mechanism sex was optional for these organisms. As more complex organisms evolved sex became more stable and necessary. Our complexity is supported by sex. Although we often refer to sex as the actual interaction of our genitals, the deeper sexual process is between these two cells whose fusion our whole being is sometimes consumed in achieving or at least getting the enjoyment of the pleasure that is programmed in us in aid of that process.
What also came with sex is programmed death and aging. Apparently before the development of sex first as a survival mechanism, organisms had no natural lifespan. In other words, death and aging was not pre-progammed into their existence. They could die from external conditions but there was no natural death.
"Fusion sex, fertilization followed by meiosis, allowed beings to survive the cycles of seasons. Sex let animals grow elaborately complex multicellular bodies from fertile eggs. But the price for ecstasy beyond identity -- the sexuality that impels us to unite with each other and make a new being beyond ourselves --- was high....Death on cue, death on schedule, so called programmed death was part and parcel of fusion sex since its single-cell beginnings."
Another interesting phenomenon touched on in the book was how groups of organism may behave as one organism when it came to sex. Sexual attraction and engagement was effected not as individuals but as groups or "super-organisms". In the case of African burrowing rats called naked mole rats
"only the huge queen and two or three breeding males reproduce. Other males and females indulge in "anogenital nuzzling" or even climax in sexual intercourse, but five of seven males, if they ejaculate, produce only dead infertile sperm"
Hormones play a major part in the development of genitals and other features. They also probably play a role in our impulse to and approach toward sex to some extent. In the case of the above animals the "naked mole rat queens -- not their male consorts -- have the highest blood levels of testosterone of all colony members".
The need to distinguish and to be distinguished as a potential and suitable mate has gone a long way in evolving many of the physical manifestations we find among gendered organisms which aim to attract. Therefore according Sagan and Margulis, sex would have played a significant role in terms of creating attraction and attractiveness among animals. Among humans this has been augmented by culture and the various factors that shape it. However among animals it has given birth to a whole range of different features.
Sex has an ancient history beyond our human experience of it. The fact that we are in some sense super-organism in that we are a combination of millions of cells and are highly specialized in our functions sex the experience and significance of sex has developed to differ in many ways from its earliest origins. The development of culture also has adapted sex to the needs or priorities, based on what was known, fears and biases. Culture has also lead us to attached certain meaning and types of significance to sex and things related to the acts from our body parts to particular actions, features etc.
This book was a very interesting read. By looking beyond our human experience of sex it actually sheds much light on our experience and understanding of it. http://www.amazon.com/What-Sex-Lynn-Margulis/dp/B000H2MGAI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385816257&sr=1-1&keywords=What+is+Sex+Sagan