Reproduction, process whereby all living organisms produce offspring. Reproduction is one of the essential functions of plants, animals, and single celled organisms, as necessary for the preservation of the species as eating is for the preservation of the individual.
Most single-celled organisms reproduce by a process known as fission, in which the parent organism splits into two or more so-called daughter organisms, thereby losing its original identity. Cell division, which results in the multiplication of cells constituting the tissues, organs, and systems of a multicellular organism, is not considered true reproduction; it is almost identical, however, with the binary fission of single-celled organisms. In certain multicellular animals, such as the coelenterates, sponges, and tunicates, cell division often results in the production of buds that arise from the body of the parent and then later separate to develop into a new organism identical with the parent; this process, known as gemmation, is analogous to the process of vegetative reproduction or propagation in plants. Reproductive processes such as those cited above, in which only one parent gives rise to the offspring, are scientifically classified as asexual reproduction. The offspring produced are identical with the parent.
A number of single-celled organisms multiply by conjugation. In this process, which is analogous to fertilization, two similar unicellular organisms fuse, exchange nuclear materials, and then break apart. Each organism then reproduces by fission; occasionally, after conjugation, the participating organisms do not reproduce, the process in these instances seeming merely to revitalize the organisms. Conjugation is the most primitive method of sexual reproduction by which organisms having genetic characteristics derived from two parents are produced. Most multicellular animals and plants undergo a more complex form of sexual reproduction in which especially differentiated male and female reproductive cells (gametes) unite to form a single cell, known as a zygote, which later undergoes successive divisions to form a new organism. The terms fecundation and fertilization are applied to the union of the male and female cells. In this form of sexual reproduction, half the genes, the carriers of inheritable characteristics, in the zygote come from one parent and half from the other parent. See Cell.
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