On the Origins of New Forms of Life

2.7: Artificial Selection (continued)



(Continued from the previous page)

Beach Strawberry Fragaria chiloensis
Beach Strawberry Fragaria chiloensis
Image: Wikimedia

Virginia Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Virginia Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
Image: Walter Siegmund

Hybrid Plants and Artificial Selection. Plant breeders, too, commonly start with variable hybrid plants and then apply selection to produce new crops, trees, and flowers with desirable properties. Soliman (1992: 199) claims no other factor has had a greater impact on agricultural production. New breeds produced by hybridization vary widely in the proportion of their genetic composition (Carver and Taliaferro 1992). Some varieties so produced are very close to one parent, but have only one or a few traits from the other (natural processes of this sort are sometimes called "introgression"). At the other end of the spectrum are breeds that derive their traits in equal number from both parents. In the former case, one can think of the new hybrid as a slightly altered version of one of the original parental forms, in the latter as a distinct, new composite.

A complete list of all the new crops derived from the production of hybrid plants followed by selection would be both tedious and beyond the scope of this discussion, but the curious reader is referred to a summary paper on this topic by Kalloo (1992). An inventory of the cultivated flowers derived from hybridization would probably be even more lengthy. Here we will mention only a few examples of the many new breeds of plants derived from hybridization.

For example, a rubber-producing plant from Mexico, guayule (Parthenium argentatum), was crossed with northern relatives to produce hybrid plants that could transfer cold tolerance to guayule (Asker and Jerling 1992: 249). A new variety of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) resistant to Yellow vein mosaic disease, the most serious disease of that plant, was developed by crossing A. esculentus with A. manihot (edible hibiscus). The modern commercial strawberry is derived from hybridization of the Virginia strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and the beach strawberry (F. chiloensis). Rockwell et al. (1961: p. 32) say

It should be remembered that, nowadays, few of our popular garden flowers are still the original species. Run down the list — roses, iris, peonies, phlox, delphinium, poppies, gladiolus, marigolds, petunias, zinnias, tulips, daffodils, and shrubs such as lilacs and azaleas — in the forms which we use in our gardens, are the results of man-made crosses, hybrids bearing little resemblance to the original wild species from which they have been developed. This hybridizing process goes back, in most cases, through hundreds of years; in some, as with the rose, so far as to be lost in antiquity.

A great deal of the history of rose breeding, however, is known. Most early European roses did not have the characteristic of continuous, or repeat, bloom as do most roses today (damask roses were an exception). But by the early 1800s, four Chinese rose cultivars, which did bloom repeatedly, had become available to European breeders — a pink and a red China Rose, as well as a blush and a yellow Tea Rose. These were crossed with European roses to produce new repeat-blooming varieties. The first of these new repeat-blooming roses to appear in Europe, the Bourbons, resulted when French breeders crossed China Roses with various Old Roses.

The Hybrid Teas are the most important of the modern roses. They are "the result of hybridising the Hybrid Perpetuals with the Tea Roses in the 1840s. The Hybrid Teas are an entirely new type of rose bearing so little resemblance to those of the past that they might almost be regarded as a new plant. For most of the twentieth century they dominated the rose scene and are still the most popular roses today." Austin notes (2005: 15) that

strong yellow became available [in the Hybrid Teas] only when the French rose breeder Joseph Pernet-Ducher hybridised the Austrian briar [Rosa foetida] with the Hybrid Teas sometime around the year 1900.

Early Use of Hybridization. It is certainly true that the "hybridizing process goes back, in most cases, through hundreds of years." A detailed history of this process for all domestic breeds and varieties would fill many volumes. But a few examples will serve to illustrate how long breeders have been using hybridization to produce new plants and animals.

Thus, John Moore (1735) lists various pigeon breeds produced by hybridization. In the first volume of his Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux (1770), Buffon comments that certain finches (such as the European Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, and the Eurasian Siskin, C. spinus) easily cross and that

the hybrids they engender can, in uniting with each other, produce more individuals like themselves and so form new intermediate species.

In addition to such early reports, modern technology has documented examples of breeders' use of hybridization even in ancient times. The Madura breed of cattle, widespread in Indonesia, has been shown by multiple molecular genetic criteria to be derived from hybridization between Zebu and Banteng (B. javanicus). Ward et al. (1999) concluded that these animals were crossed on the island of Madura some 1500 years ago.

Dianthus caryophyllus

Sweet William
Sweet William
Dianthus barbatus
Image: Wikimedia

As for hybrid plants, sometime prior to 1717 Thomas Fairchild (1667-1729) produced a new variety of pink (Dianthus) by crossing a carnation (D. caryophyllus) with a Sweet William (D. barbatus). In that same year Richard Bradley (d. 1732) wrote of obtaining numerous new varieties from hybrid plants in the auriculas of the genus Primula (New Improvements of Planting and Gardening, London, 1717):

'Tis from this accidental Coupling that proceeds the Numberless Varieties of Fruits and Flowers which are raised every Day from Seed. The yellow and black Auriculas, which were the first we had in England, coupling with one another, produced Seed which gave us other varieties, which again mixing their Qualities in like manner, has afforded us little by little, the numberless Variations which we see at this Day in every curious Flower-Garden; for I have saved the Seeds of near a hundred plain Auriculas whose Flowers were of one Colour, and stood remote from others, and that Seed I remember to have produced no Variety; but on the other hand, where I have saved the Seed of such plain Auriculas, as we have stood together, and were differing in their Colours, that Seed has furnish'd me with great Varieties, different from the Mother Plants.

The French botanist Henri-Louis DuHamel du Monceau (1728) asserted "almost all the fruits that gardeners call new are only composites of other older ones which can be recognized easily." Zirkle (1935) discusses the work of a variety of eighteenth century plant breeders who produced a wide variety of new vegetables, fruits, and flowers by first producing variable hybrid plants and then applying selection. By end of the eighteenth century Thomas Knight was producing hybrid plants on a large scale to breed a wide array of improved cultivated plants. Linnaeus himself (De sexu plantarum, 1760) enthused about hybrid plants' potential to produce improved crops:

Here is a new employment for botanists, to attempt the production of new species of vegetables by scattering the pollen of various plants over various widowed females. And if these [foregoing] remarks [on hybridization] should meet with a favorable reception, I shall be the more induced to dedicate what remains of my life to such experiments, which recommend themselves by being at the same time agreeable and useful. I am persuaded by many considerations that those most numerous and most valuable varieties of plants which are used for culinary purposes, have been produced in this manner, as the several kinds of cabbages, lettuces, etc. NEXT PAGE >>

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