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12.5: Reproduction and Inherited Traits

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    As noted in the preceding section, one of the major activities of organisms is metabolism by which organisms process materials and energy. The other major activity of all organisms is reproduction. Most organisms are capable of reproducing a large excess of their species because throughout time predators and hostile conditions have required large numbers of juveniles to ensure survival of enough members to continue the species. Unrestrained reproduction, especially by humans, poses a strong threat of overpopulation that will outstrip Earth’s resources and is a major concern related to reproduction and the environment. A second major concern is the potential effect of environmental chemicals upon reproduction and the threat of such chemicals to cause birth defects. Therefore, chemicals that may affect reproduction are given strong consideration in the practice of green chemistry.

    Primitive single-celled organisms, particularly bacteria, undergo asexual reproduction in which a cell simply splits to form two cells. Humans and most other multicelled organisms undergo sexual reproduction requiring that male sperm cells fertilize female egg cells to produce cells capable of dividing and producing new individuals.

    Reproduction is directed by genes which occur in molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, discussed in Chapter 7, Section 7.6. The DNA of an individual, which in sexual reproduction has contributions from both parents, determines the physical, biochemical, and behavioral traits of the organism. The DNA can be altered resulting in changes called mutations. A minuscule fraction of mutations are desirable and convey advantages to an individual that are passed along as heritable characteristics in offspring. This is the process of natural selection that has resulted in literally millions of different species of organisms.

    Some chemicals are capable of producing mutations. Control of production and exposure to these mutagens is a major thrust of green chemistry. This is particularly so because substances that cause mutations are generally regarded as being capable of causing cancer as well and substances that give positive tests for mutagenicity are suspect carcinogens.

    This page titled 12.5: Reproduction and Inherited Traits is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stanley E. Manahan.

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