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Evolutionary Theory

Author(s): Tadzia GrandPré, PhD, Nancy Moreno, PhD, and Lisa Marie Meffert, PhD

Domestication and Artificial Selection

Darwin used examples of artificial selection to help explain the process of natural selection. For thousands of years, humans have applied artificial selection to obtain domesticated plants and animals with desirable combinations of traits. Darwin noted how humans developed hundreds of dog breeds from one common ancestor (now known to be the wolf). Some dog breeds were developed for a particular purpose. For example, many of the characteristics of the dachshund breed of dogs-such as short legs, slender bodies, and courageous dispositions-were selected to develop a breed well suited to maneuvering through narrow holes while hunting badgers. Most plant and animal products we eat have been similarly modified through careful selection and breeding of individuals with desirable characteristics. For example, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower all have been derived from the same common wild ancestor, a single species of wild mustard.