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Evolution: artificial selection and domestication

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In the 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. This free course, Evolution: artificial selection and domestication, provides an introduction to their work.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • define the terms ‘artificial selection’ and ‘domestication’ and explain the relationship between artificial and natural selection
  • describe some forms of dwarfism in modern breeds of dogs and explain their relationship to dwarfism in humans and in modern and extinct wild mammals
  • describe some features of the skin, fur, feathers and the shape of the head frequently observed in domesticated livestock
  • outline some major conclusions emerging from the sequencing of the dog genome and outline some current theories about when and where dogs were domesticated
  • explain the functional basis of some of the anatomical changes induced by selective breeding of some modern dog breeds.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 5 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 2nd March 2016
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Natural History
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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 course 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 course in animals that you see around you.

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

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