When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.
Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.
Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.
We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.