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Seven-sexed micro-organism - Input Junkie
March 2nd, 2011
06:00 pm

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Seven-sexed micro-organism
Tetrahymena thermophila is a single cell covered with a coat of hairs called cilia. The cilia wave back and forth, powering it through the water.

Its seven sexes are rather prosaically named I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII. An individual of a given sex can mate with individuals of any except its own, so there are 21 possible orientations.

In most animals, what sex you are is straightforward. A human with two X chromosomes is female, while someone with an X and a Y is male. Other species use different systems, but they are all clear cut when it comes to sex determination and mating.

Not so for Tetrahymena. Its sex is controlled by a gene called mat, but it is not as simple as one version of the gene encoding one sex. Instead, each allele of the gene sets out a series of probabilities. For instance, an individual born with the mat2 allele has zero chance of being type I, a 0.15 chance of being type II, a 0.09 chance of being type II, and so on.

There are at least 14 of these alleles, each offering a different set of probabilities. They are divided into two major groups called A and B: A alleles produce every sex except IV and VII, while B alleles produce everything except I.


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From:rimrunner
Date:March 2nd, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
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Sounds like something C.J. Cherryh would come up with.
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From:madfilkentist
Date:March 3rd, 2011 12:32 am (UTC)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 3rd, 2011 06:05 am (UTC)
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I thought about referencing that story, but I didn't remember enough detail. As I recall, the seven sexes there were explained as an adaptation to get more variation for a very hostile environment. Ghu knows why the Tetrahymena thermophila are so complicated.
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From:roadnotes
Date:March 2nd, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
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Wow. This makes me unreasonably happy.
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From:dglenn
Date:March 3rd, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
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Sheepie's response when I read this to her on the phone: "Wow, I wonder how you make porn for that." (She was disturbed when instead of laughing as expected, I gave her a deadpan, "I don't know, but I look forward to finding out." Heh.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 3rd, 2011 06:06 am (UTC)
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Part of my response was "Take that, C. S. Lewis." At some point, he said that an additional sex (gender?) was unimaginable.
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From:solri
Date:March 3rd, 2011 10:25 pm (UTC)
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I didn't know that, but it makes sense in terms of his (rather odd) worldview, since he thought that gender existed before and independently of physical form. Kind of like Anglican yin and yang.
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