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Evolution: artificial selection and domestication

Introduction

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Most contemporary evolutionary biologists study evolution experimentally using laboratory organisms such as Drosophila or natural systems in the wild. However, 18th and 19th century evolutionary biologists, including Darwin, emphasised the similarities between natural evolution and artificial ‘ improvement’ of livestock under domestication. They believed that studying domesticated animals and plants could illuminate the mechanisms of natural evolution. Indeed, Chapter 1 of On the Origin of Species… is entitled ‘Variation under domestication’. Recent discoveries reveal the relationship between natural evolutionary mechanisms and the practical technologies used to breed plants, animals, yeasts and, these days, microbes, to produce food, clothing, transport, companionship, decoration, entertainment and most recently medicines. This unit is mostly about mammals, particularly dogs and other domesticated livestock, but the basic principles are probably universal. Dogs and other livestock are so familiar that we hope that you will take the opportunity to observe the characters, habits and processes described in this unit in animals that you see around you.

This unit is an adapted extract from the course Evolution (S366) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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