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Artificial Selection in Evolution

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  • 0:07 What Is Artifical Selection?
  • 1:05 Examples
  • 2:30 Pros and Cons
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Humans have been selectively breeding for desirable traits in plants and animals for a long time. This artificial selection allows for a lot of control in the breeding process but can also lead to unintended mutations within a population of organisms.

What Is Artificial Selection?

You've likely heard of natural selection, which is often described as the 'survival of the fittest.' This is a bit of a misnomer, because in evolution, individual organisms don't willfully adapt to their environment. Rather, environmental stressors lead to the selection of specific traits among individuals within a population, pushing those traits forward through time. So, in natural selection, what is considered 'fit' actually depends on the environment and its demands.

Artificial selection is a bit different. This is when specific traits are deliberately selected for or against by humans. You may not have been aware of the term 'artificial selection' but you are in fact quite familiar with the concept already. Modern dog breeds have all been selected for by humans, as have most food crops that you buy at the grocery store. Again, the main difference is that natural selection is a 'natural' process, while artificial selection is a 'forced' selection process by humans.

Examples

Because of the selective process of artificial selection, it is often called 'selective breeding.' This type of breeding has been used by humans in both plants and animals for thousands of years. The modern sweet corn you eat today is quite different from its ancestor, a plant called teosinte. Both plants are grains, but teosinte looks much more like the grass family that it belongs to, unlike our modern corn that has large, juicy kernels.

Wild mustard has also been extensively selected and bred for certain traits. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage are all related to the wild mustard plant. For example, we get broccoli from flower suppression of the wild mustard and kale from its leaf enlargement. What this means is that wild mustard plants with larger leaves were selected for and eventually developed into a plant that now has very large, tasty leaves.

Animals have also been selected for in many domestic realms. A Great Dane looks nothing like a Chihuahua, right? This is because in both dog breeds, the specific traits that led to their differences were selected for by humans, and animals that had these traits were bred so that the traits would continue down family lineages.

The cows, pigs, and chickens that are eaten in the U.S. also have traits that are selectively bred. Larger animals that grow quickly and produce more meat are desirable because they are more cost efficient for farmers.

Pros and Cons

There is no better way to create your 'perfect' organism than through artificial selection. With selective breeding, you can breed plants that grow faster and larger and are more resistant to parasites and pests. You could breed horses that run faster, sheep that grow thicker wool, and cows that produce more meat.

However, in selecting this way you are playing a risky game. Selective breeding certainly keeps the traits you want, but it also reduces the size of the gene pool for those organisms. This brings forth mutations that would normally be suppressed within the population. After some time, the species that is produced through artificial breeding has a much lower genetic diversity than its 'wild' ancestors. This means individuals are more susceptible to disease, and the species as a whole may not be able to 'adapt' to changes in the environment.

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