Sep. 3, 2013 — New research from the University of East Anglia has shown that females can maximise the genetic quality of their offspring by being promiscuous.
Researchers studied red junglefowl (the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken) in a collaborative project with the University of Oxford, Stockholm University and Linköping University.
Findings published today in the journalProceedings of the Royal Society Breveal that mating with different males helps females produce offspring that are more resistant to diseases.
This is down to 'cryptic female choice' -- where an internal mechanism in their reproductive tract favours the sperm from males that are most genetically different to them.
The genes in question (Major Histocompatibility Complex; MHC) play a key role in detecting and fighting infections. By biasing fertilisation in favour of MHC-dissimilar males, females increase the diversity of MHC within their offspring, providing them with better disease resistance.
The findings will be important for animal breeders as well as conservation projects because they show that allowing multiple matings will produce the most disease resistant and genetically healthy offspring.
Prof David S Richardson, from UEA's school of Biological Sciences, said: "Our research has shown that the females don't need to choose between males to produce the most healthy offspring. Rather by mating with multiple males, they allow their internal choice mechanism to favour the most genetically different sperm.