Artificial selection is a process of selective breeding that has been used by humans for thousands of years. It is the earliest form of biotechnology, where plants or animals with specific traits were selected to breed so that their desired traits could be duplicated. Over the years, selective breeding has done everything from create larger fruits to horse breeds that have specific gaits.
The advantage of selective breeding is that it uses the processes of natural selection, but under direct supervision from carefully selected animals or plants with the desired traits. There are no genetic modifications or other forms of tampering that could potentially harm people and the risk to the plant or animal is often very minimal at the same time.
The disadvantage of selective breeding is that it can take a long time for the process to work. In horse breeding, for example, the given standard to establish a new breed is to have offspring with the desired traits to be produced over the course of 7 generations. That means it may take 25-50 years for the desired traits to become a foundational component of a plant or animal.
Here are some of the other advantages and disadvantages of selecting breeding that are important to think about.
List of Advantages of Selective Breeding
1. Anyone can work on selective breeding.
Unlike other forms of animal or plant management, selective breeding can be performed by anyone with appropriate knowledge of what is required. Once the specific characteristics of the plant or animal have been identified with appropriate parentage, multiple generations can be produced at the same location to create the changes which are desired.
2. It provides improvements to the plants or animals.
Plants are improved by selective breeding to create more fruits or vegetables. What they produce can be altered so that fruits are seedless, vegetables taste better, or corn cobs can produce more corn per ear to increase yields. Animals can be selectively bred to be heavier to produce more meat, have physical characteristics which allow them to meet specific needs, or have a specific appearance.
3. New plant and animal varieties can be created.
People have been domesticating dogs for an estimated 14,000 years. Over that time, we have created hundreds of unique breeds with different shapes, sizes, and coat colors. If one looked at a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard, they’re both dogs that meet specific needs, but are very different from one another. That difference was produced by selective breeding.
4. Selective breeding can replicate what GMO work provides.
Selective breeding can produce plants that have a better resistance to pests or disease. Crops can be selectively bred to bring a yield to harvest in a faster time. Animals can be selectively bred to take less development time before they enter the human food chain. GMO work may alter the DNA and genetic profiles of plants and animals to produce these results quickly, but selective breeding does so without the potential dangers of GMOs. Though it is a slower process, it can be argued that it is a safer process.
5. Future generations of plants and animals maintain the improvements.
The seeds or offspring that are produced through selective breeding retain the information from their parents in most circumstances. There may be spontaneous changes to the traits that become highly desired as well. Although there will always be a level of unpredictability with this science, by only selecting the plants or animals with the specific traits for breeding in every generation, the risks of the unpredictable are reduced.
6. The human food chain can be stabilized.
Numerous estimates by the United Nations, the United States, and NATO put the human population on Earth at 10 billion people or more by the year 2050. Although Oxfam states that the world already produces enough food to feed everyone, we still need to stabilize our food chain to eliminate waste and increase production. Selective breeding can accomplish both goals at the same time when plants and animals with the needed traits are identified.
7. It can increase the yields from animal-related food products.
Animals can be selectively bred to produce more eggs, more milk, and other food-related products that don’t involve butchering. Cows could be selectively bred to produce milk with higher fat content levels so additional dairy products could be created. Chickens could be selectively bred so that hens lay eggs earlier in their development and for a longer period over their life.
8. The cost of selective breeding is minimal.
Compared to GMO research or other forms of food chain improvement, selective breeding has a cost that is very minimal. Some farmers may be able to identify crops or animals from their own resources to begin engaging in this process. Because it is such an affordable method of improving plants and animals with specifically desired traits, selective breeding is an easy way to meet the changing demands of our planet and different economic markets.
9. It supports other life infrastructures.
Selective breeding doesn’t pose the same risks to bees and other pollinators that other forms of artificial selection provide. The processes used are natural, even if human interference creates certain changes, which means the risks to supportive life structures are much lower. That keeps the variety of life that we have on our planet and allows us to continue working toward a better life for each new generation.
List of Disadvantages of Selective Breeding
1. It may lead to a lack of variety in plant or animal species.
Selective breeding can create a wide variety of species, but it can also drive them to extinction. One example of this happening because of selective breeding is the Narragansett Pacer. This horse species was widely used to improve the genetics and bloodlines of other horse breeds, which eventually led to its extinction. Without careful management, selective breeding can reduce species variety and even lead to inbreeding.
2. Genetic mutations are still going to occur.
The goal of selective breeding is to increase the chances of preferred traits being transferred from parents to offspring. Good traits will be transferred in this process, but so will poor traits. There is also the potential of a genetic mutation occurring that can render the process useless. There may even be a higher risk of randomized mutations occurring with selective breeding, though no research currently examines this risk factor.
3. The process of selective breeding becomes about humans only.
Plants and animals that go through the selective breeding process may develop bodies or structures that cannot support the desired traits. Genetic conditions may develop that further reduce the potential of the plant or animal. A cow with a large body, but small legs and small hooves would struggle to support itself. It might produce more meat for human conception, but the quality of life for the animal would be reduced for human convenience.
4. There is no guarantee that the desired traits will pass to the offspring.
It is possible for two solid-colored coat horses to produce a foal that is spotted with pinto patterning. Two pinto horses can produce a foal with a solid-colored coat. It is possible for selective breeding to be ineffective for a generation and that can cause the desired traits to be inaccessible for future generations.
5. It can create genetic bottlenecks.
When one specific trait is desired, specific family groups are often used to create the needed offspring. If that family group is the only offspring produced with the desired traits, then a “genetic bottleneck” occurs. Each subsequent generation will lower in quality because there is a lack of genetic variation present. Outside genetics must be introduced to preserve the traits when that happens, but the outside genetics could dominate the desired traits and reduce their appearance.
6. There may be evolutionary changes that harm the planet.
Plants and animals evolve over time to match the changing conditions of our planet. By artificially breeding them for selected traits, we are altering that path. Over time, these changes could result in a species being threated because they lack the ability to adapt to the new environmental conditions that are beginning to appear.
7. Selective breeding can affect plants or animals outside of the intended effort.
Let’s say a community wishes to plant corn in the desert. Through selective breeding, eventually corn that can grow in the low-water conditions of the desert becomes possible. Once planted, however, that corn takes water resources away from other plants or animals. By evolving one species artificially, we can actually harm other species if we do not accelerate their evolution at the same time.
The advantages and disadvantages of selective breeding show that it can be a highly beneficial process that supports continuing life on our planet. If not implemented with care and caution, however, selective breeding can also be a very destructive process.
What are your thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of selective breeding?