Animal domestication

Published on July 1, 2014   47 min

A selection of talks on Plant & Animal Sciences

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This talk is on animal domestication. I'm Carlos Driscoll, Chair in Conservation Genetics at the Wildlife Institute of India.
In this talk, we'll cover the basic questions regarding where, when, and who achieved domestication and touch on why those people might have made the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. And then we'll move into the deceptively simple question of what domestication actually is and how, in an evolutionary genetic sense, it came about. That should allow us to transition to thinking about domestication in terms of molecular genetics. And finally, to briefly introduce the field of behavioral ethics. But before all that, we'll introduce the topic with a few slides on what domestication has done for us as humans. Throughout the talk, animal domestication is considered in the light of evolution, and that seems a good place to begin.
Darwin first described natural selection in 1859, with "On the Origin of Species." Sexual selection was introduced in "Descent of Man, and Selection Related to Sex" in 1871. In between those two, in 1868, he published the "Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication." In this work, he looks more deeply into artificial selection. Domestication, the most obvious exemplification of artificial selection, was something that very much interested Darwin. He felt that an appreciation of animal domestication was important not only in its own right, but as a key to understanding natural selection, and hence evolution in general. Here he was using domestic animal breeding as a faster-paced analogy for evolution by the gradual and accumulative force of natural selection. Because Darwin saw that one could experiment with domestic animals, breeding various strains together or selecting for certain traits, things that could not be done with wild animals in anything close to the same way. But on any farm, one could study the properties of varieties and dynamics of adaptation firsthand. So here he uses the tangible and familiar results of artificial selection by farmers in his argument that selection by natural means, survival of the fittest, was not just plausible or possible, but probable. If humans could do it in only a few hundred years, then nature must surely be able to do the same thing over millions.