Scientists now think they have cracked the secret to these microscopic animals’ success: recombining their own genes in new ways and stealing genes from other organisms living nearby, thus keeping genetic diversity alive and well—even without the DNA from a mate.
“This animal has lost its sexuality,” said study co-author Olivier Jaillon of Genoscope, part of the Institut de Génomique du CEA in France.
Bdelloid rotifers are microscopic, multicellular animals that look and move a lot like leeches (“bdelloid” is from the Greek for “leech”). They generally live in freshwater, moist soil, and other damp environments. And these unassuming animals have some pretty cool superpowers: They can withstand long periods of being dried out, as well as massive doses of radiation that would kill pretty much every other living thing.