Sexual reproduction is an adaptive feature which is common to almost all multi-cellular organisms (and also some single-cellular organisms) with many being incapable of reproducing asexually. Prior to the advent of sexual reproduction, the adaptation process whereby genes would change from one generation to the next (genetic mutation) happened very slowly and randomly. Sex evolved as an extremely efficient mechanism for producing variation, and this had the major advantage of enabling organisms to adapt to changing environments. Sex did, however, come with a cost. In reproducing asexually, no time nor energy needs to be expended in choosing a mate. And if the environment has not changed, then there may be little reason for variation, as the organism may already be well adapted. Sex, however, has evolved as the most prolific means of species branching into the tree of life. Diversification into the phylogenetic tree happens much more rapidly via sexual reproduction than it does by way of asexual reproduction.
Image 14A mutation has caused this moss rose plant to produce flowers of different colors. This is a somatic mutation that may also be passed on in the germline. (from Mutation)
Image 15Speciation via polyploidy: A diploid cell undergoes failed meiosis, producing diploid gametes, which self-fertilize to produce a tetraploid zygote. In plants, this can effectively be a new species, reproductively isolated from its parents, and able to reproduce. (from Speciation)
Image 16The distribution of fitness effects (DFE) of mutations in vesicular stomatitis virus. In this experiment, random mutations were introduced into the virus by site-directed mutagenesis, and the fitness of each mutant was compared with the ancestral type. A fitness of zero, less than one, one, more than one, respectively, indicates that mutations are lethal, deleterious, neutral, and advantageous. (from Mutation)