CIE A Level Biology (9700) exams from 2022

Revision Notes

17.2.6 Artificial Selection

Artificial Selection

  • Artificial selection is the process by which humans choose organisms with desirable traits and selectively breed them together to enhance the expression of these desirable traits over time and many generations
  • This practice is also known as selective breeding
  • Humans have been selectively breeding organisms for thousands of years, long before scientists understood the genetics behind it
  • Knowledge of the alleles that contribute to the expression of the desired traits are not required as individuals are selected by their phenotypes, and not their genotypes
  • As the genetics is not always understood, breeders can accidentally enhance other traits that are genetically linked to the desirable trait
    • These other traits can sometimes negatively affect the organism’s health
  • Examples of artificial selection include:
    • Increased milk yield from cattle
    • Faster racehorses
    • Disease-resistant crops
  • There are always biological limitations to how extreme a trait can become in an organism

Principles of selective breeding

1. The population shows phenotypic variation – there are individuals with different phenotypes / traits

2. Breeder selects an individual with the desired phenotype

3. Another individual with the desired phenotype is selected. The two selected individuals should not be closely related to each other

4. The two selected individuals are bred together

5. The offspring produced reach maturity and are then tested for the desirable trait. Those that display the desired phenotype to the greatest degree are selected for further breeding

6. The process continues for many generations: the best individuals from the offspring are chosen for breeding until all offspring display the desirable trait

Artificial selection in racing horses

  • Selective breeding has been a major part of the horseracing industry for many years. Breeders have found that horses tend to have one of the three following phenotypes:
    • Good at sprinting short distances
    • Good endurance over long distances
    • All-rounder
  • If a breeder wanted to breed a horse for a sprinting event they are likely to do the following:
    • Select the fastest sprinting female horse they have
    • Select the fastest sprinting male horse they have
    • Breed the two selected horses
    • Allow their offspring to reach maturity and test their sprinting speeds to find the fastest horse (male or female)
    • The breeder could then use this horse for racing, or they could continue the process of selective breeding by breeding this horse with another horse that is fast or descended from fast-sprinters
    • Over several generations, it would be hoped that the offspring are all fast-sprinters (but remember there are biological limitations to this)

Exam Tip

Selective breeding can be used to enhance a single desired trait but it can also be used to combine several desired traits together in a single individual. A lot of this type of selective breeding is seen in plants. Farmers are constantly trying to breed plants with a high yield, disease resistance and the ability to grow in poor soil.

Author: Lára

Lára graduated from Oxford University in Biological Sciences and has now been a science tutor working in the UK for several years. Lára has a particular interest in the area of infectious disease and epidemiology, and enjoys creating original educational materials that develop confidence and facilitate learning.

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