Artificial selection

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Artificial selection (or selective breeding) describes intentional breeding for certain traits, or combination of traits. The term was utilized by Charles Darwin in contrast to natural selection, in which the differential reproduction of organisms with certain traits is attributed to improved survival or reproductive ability (“Darwinian fitness”). As opposed to artificial selection, in which humans favor specific traits, in natural selection the environment acts as a sieve through which only certain variations can pass.

The deliberate exploitation of artificial selection has become very common in experimental biology, as well as the discovery and invention of new drugs.

Artificial selection can also be unintentional; it is thought that domestication of crops by early humans was largely unintentional.[1]


Historical development

Artificial selection was practiced by the Romans.[2] Treatises as much as 2,000 years old give advice on selecting animals for different purposes, and these ancient works cite still older authorities, such as Mago the Carthaginian.[3] The notion of artificial selection was later expressed by the Persian polymath Abu Rayhan Biruni in the 11th century. He noted the idea in his book entitled India, and gave various examples.[4]

Charles Darwin coined the term as an illustration of his proposed wider process of natural selection. Darwin noted that many domesticated animals and plants had special properties that were developed by intentional animal and plant breeding from individuals that showed desirable characteristics, and discouraging the breeding of individuals with less desirable characteristics.

Darwin used the term twice in the 1859 first edition of his work On the Origin of Species, in Chapter IV: Natural Selection, and in Chapter VI: Difficulties on Theory –

We are profoundly ignorant of the causes producing slight and unimportant variations; and we are immediately made conscious of this by reflecting on the differences in the breeds of our domesticated animals in different countries,—more especially in the less civilized countries where there has been but little artificial selection.[6]

Contrast to natural selection

It should be emphasized that there is no real difference in the genetic processes underlying artificial and natural selection, and that the concept of artificial selection was used by Charles Darwin as an illustration of the wider process of natural selection. The selection process is termed "artificial" when human preferences or influences have a significant effect on the evolution of a particular population or species. Indeed, many evolutionary biologists view domestication as a type of natural selection and adaptive change that occurs as organisms are brought under the control of human beings.

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