Artificial Selection and Domestication: Modern Lessons from Darwin’s Enduring Analogy

Research paper by T. Ryan Gregory

Indexed on: 14 Jan '09Published on: 14 Jan '09Published in: Evolution: Education and Outreach


It is clear from his published works that Charles Darwin considered domestication to be very useful in exploring and explaining mechanisms of evolutionary change. Not only did domestication occupy the introductory chapter of On the Origin of Species, but he revisited the topic in a two-volume treatise less than a decade later. In addition to drawing much of his information about heredity from studies of domesticated animals and plants, Darwin saw important parallels between the process of artificial selection by humans and natural selection by the environment. There was resistance to this analogy even among Darwin’s contemporary supporters when it was proposed, and there also has been disagreement among historians and philosophers regarding the role that the analogy with artificial selection actually played in the discovery of natural selection. Regardless of these issues, the analogy between artificial and natural selection remains important in both research and education in evolution. In particular, the present article reviews ten lessons about evolution that can be drawn from the modern understanding of domestication and artificial selection. In the process, a basic overview is provided of current approaches and knowledge in this rapidly advancing field.