Evolution – The Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution did not begin in the 1960s with flower power or with the slogan “make love and not war”. The vanguard of the sexual revolution weren’t the hippies who “wore flowers in their hair” that Scott McKenzie immortalized in his generational anthem, “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)”. Rather sex can trace its humble beginnings to the true pioneers of the Sexual Revolution – the cyanobacteria and other eukaryotes at the dawn of evolutionary history.

The advent of sex may not have begun with the first micro orgasm but, it was no less earth moving.

With advent of sexual reproduction, some one and half billion years ago, life on Earth took a major evolutionary leap. Until then evolution was agonizingly slow. Before life stumbled on sex as a reproductive strategy new varieties of organisms could only arise from the accumulation of random mutations – the selection of a few typographical errors, letter by letter, in life’s genetic code. With the invention of sex, two organisms could now exchange whole paragraphs, pages and books of their DNA code, and thus evolution could proceed at a faster pace.

In evolutionary terms, sex is more important than life itself. Sex fuels evolutionary change by adding variation to the gene pool. The powerful urge to pass our genes on to the next generation has likely changed the face of human culture in ways we are only now beginning to fully understand.

Today on Discovery Enterprise we continue our year long celebration of the life and work of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the epic story of life on Earth with the fifth installment of the landmark PBS television series “Evolution” – Why Sex.


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