Favourable variations are ones that increase chances for survival and procreation. Those advantageous variations are preserved and multiplied from generation to generation at the expense of less-advantageous ones.
This is the process known as natural selection. The outcome of the process is an organism that is well adapted to its environment , and evolution often occurs as a consequence. Natural selection, then, can be defined as the differential reproduction of alternative hereditary variants, determined by the fact that some variants increase the likelihood that the organisms having them will survive and reproduce more successfully than will organisms carrying alternative variants.
Selection may occur as a result of differences in survival, in fertility, in rate of development, in mating success, or in any other aspect of the life cycle. All of these differences can be incorporated under the term differential reproduction because all result in natural selection to the extent that they affect the number of progeny an organism leaves. Darwin maintained that competition for limited resources results in the survival of the most-effective competitors.
Nevertheless, natural selection may occur not only as a result of competition but also as a result of some aspect of the physical environment , such as inclement weather. Moreover, natural selection would occur even if all the members of a population died at the same age, simply because some of them would have produced more offspring than others.
Natural selection is quantified by a measure called Darwinian fitness or relative fitness. Fitness in this sense is the relative probability that a hereditary characteristic will be reproduced; that is, the degree of fitness is a measure of the reproductive efficiency of the characteristic.
Biological evolution is the process of change and diversification of living things over time, and it affects all aspects of their lives— morphology form and structure , physiology , behaviour, and ecology. Underlying these changes are changes in the hereditary materials.
Evolution can be seen as a two-step process. First, hereditary variation takes place; second, selection is made of those genetic variants that will be passed on most effectively to the following generations.
Hereditary variation also entails two mechanisms—the spontaneous mutation of one variant into another and the sexual process that recombines those variants see recombination to form a multitude of variations. The variants that arise by mutation or recombination are not transmitted equally from one generation to another. Some may appear more frequently because they are favourable to the organism; the frequency of others may be determined by accidents of chance, called genetic drift.
The gene pool The gene pool is the sum total of all the genes and combinations of genes that occur in a population of organisms of the same species. It can be described by citing the frequencies of the alternative genetic constitutions. Consider, for example, a particular gene which geneticists call a locus , such as the one determining the MN blood group s in humans. One form of the gene codes for the M blood group, while the other form codes for the N blood group; different forms of the same gene are called allele s.
The MN gene pool of a particular population is specified by giving the frequencies of the alleles M and N. Thus, in the United States the M allele occurs in people of European descent with a frequency of 0. In other populations these frequencies are different; for instance, the frequency of the M allele is 0.
The necessity of hereditary variation for evolutionary change to occur can be understood in terms of the gene pool. Assume, for instance, a population in which there is no variation at the gene locus that codes for the MN blood groups; only the M allele exists in all individuals. Evolution of the MN blood groups cannot take place in such a population, since the allelic frequencies have no opportunity to change from generation to generation.
On the other hand, in populations in which both alleles M and N are present, evolutionary change is possible. Genetic variation and rate of evolution The more genetic variation that exists in a population, the greater the opportunity for evolution to occur. As the number of gene loci that are variable increases and as the number of alleles at each locus becomes greater, the likelihood grows that some alleles will change in frequency at the expense of their alternates.
The British geneticist R. Fisher mathematically demonstrated a direct correlation between the amount of genetic variation in a population and the rate of evolutionary change by natural selection. This demonstration is embodied in his fundamental theorem of natural selection One study employed different strains of Drosophila serrata , a species of vinegar fly from eastern Australia and New Guinea. Experimental populations were set up, with the flies living and reproducing in their isolated microcosms.
Single-strain populations were established from flies collected either in New Guinea or in Australia; in addition, a mixed population was constituted by crossing these two strains of flies. The mixed population had the greater initial genetic variation, since it began with two different single-strain populations. To encourage rapid evolutionary change, the populations were manipulated such that the flies experienced intense competition for food and space.
Adaptation to the experimental environment was measured by periodically counting the number of individuals in the populations. Two results deserve notice. First, the mixed population had, at the end of the experiment, more flies than the single-strain populations.
Second, and more relevant, the number of flies increased at a faster rate in the mixed population than in the single-strain populations.
Evolutionary adaptation to the environment occurred in both types of population; both were able to maintain higher numbers as the generations progressed. But the rate of evolution was more rapid in the mixed group than in the single-strain groups. The greater initial amount of genetic variation made possible a faster rate of evolution.
It is readily apparent that plant and animal species are heterogeneous in all sorts of ways—in the flower colours and growth habits of plants, for instance, or the shell shapes and banding patterns of snails.
Differences are more readily noticed among humans—in facial features, hair and skin colour, height, and weight—but such morphological differences are present in all groups of organisms. One problem with morphological variation is that it is not known how much is due to genetic factors and how much may result from environmental influences. Animal and plant breeders select for their experiments individuals or seeds that excel in desired attributes—in the protein content of corn maize , for example, or the milk yield of cows.
The selection is repeated generation after generation. If the population changes in the direction favoured by the breeder, it becomes clear that the original stock possessed genetic variation with respect to the selected trait. The results of artificial selection are impressive. Selection for high oil content in corn increased the oil content from less than 5 percent to more than 19 percent in 76 generations, while selection for low oil content reduced it to below 1 percent.
Thirty years of selection for increased egg production in a flock of White Leghorn chickens increased the average yearly output of a hen from Artificial selection has produced endless varieties of dog, cat, and horse breeds. The plants grown for food and fibre and the animals bred for food and transportation are all products of age-old or modern-day artificial selection.
Since the late 20th century, scientists have used the techniques of molecular biology to modify or introduce genes for desired traits in a variety of organisms, including domestic plants and animals; this field has become known as genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technology. Improvements that in the past were achieved after tens of generations by artificial selection can now be accomplished much more effectively and rapidly within a single generation by molecular genetic technology.
The success of artificial selection for virtually every trait and every organism in which it has been tried suggests that genetic variation is pervasive throughout natural populations.
But evolutionists like to go one step farther and obtain quantitative estimates. Only since the s, with the advances of molecular biology, have geneticists developed methods for measuring the extent of genetic variation in populations or among species of organisms.
These methods consist essentially of taking a sample of genes and finding out how many are variable and how variable each one is. One simple way of measuring the variability of a gene locus is to ascertain what proportion of the individuals in a population are heterozygotes at that locus.
In a heterozygous individual the two genes for a trait, one received from the mother and the other from the father, are different.
The proportion of heterozygotes in the population is, therefore, the same as the probability that two genes taken at random from the gene pool are different. Techniques for determining heterozygosity have been used to investigate numerous species of plants and animals. Typically, insects and other invertebrates are more varied genetically than mammals and other vertebrates, and plants bred by outcrossing crossing with relatively unrelated strains exhibit more variation than those bred by self-pollination.
But the amount of genetic variation is in any case astounding. Consider as an example humans, whose level of variation is about the same as that of other mammals. The human genome contains an estimated 20,—25, genes. An individual heterozygous at one locus Aa can produce two different kinds of sex cells, or gamete s, one with each allele A and a ; an individual heterozygous at two loci AaBb can produce four kinds of gametes AB, Ab, aB, and ab ; an individual heterozygous at n loci can potentially produce 2n different gametes.
Therefore, a typical human individual has the potential to produce 22,, or approximately 1 with zeros following , different kinds of gametes. That number is much larger than the estimated number of atoms in the universe , about It is clear, then, that every sex cell produced by a human being is genetically different from every other sex cell and, therefore, that no two persons who ever existed or will ever exist are likely to be genetically identical—with the exception of identical twins , which develop from a single fertilized ovum.
The same conclusion applies to all organisms that reproduce sexually; every individual represents a unique genetic configuration that will likely never be repeated again. This enormous reservoir of genetic variation in natural populations provides virtually unlimited opportunities for evolutionary change in response to the environmental constraints and the needs of the organisms.
The origin of genetic variation: All living things have evolved from these lowly beginnings. At present there are more than two million known species, which are widely diverse in size, shape, and way of life, as well as in the DNA sequences that contain their genetic information.
What has produced the pervasive genetic variation within natural populations and the genetic differences among species? There must be some evolutionary means by which existing DNA sequences are changed and new sequences are incorporated into the gene pools of species. The information encoded in the nucleotide sequence of DNA is, as a rule, faithfully reproduced during replication, so that each replication results in two DNA molecules that are identical to each other and to the parent molecule.
But heredity is not a perfectly conservative process; otherwise, evolution could not have taken place. A mutation first appears in a single cell of an organism, but it is passed on to all cells descended from the first. Mutations can be classified into two categories—gene, or point, mutations, which affect only a few nucleotides within a gene, and chromosomal mutations, which either change the number of chromosomes or change the number or arrangement of genes on a chromosome.
Gene mutations A gene mutation occurs when the nucleotide sequence of the DNA is altered and a new sequence is passed on to the offspring. The change may be either a substitution of one or a few nucleotides for others or an insertion or deletion of one or a few pairs of nucleotides.
The four nucleotide bases of DNA, named adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, are represented by the letters A, C, G, and T, respectively. See nucleic acid ; genetic code. A gene that bears the code for constructing a protein molecule consists of a sequence of several thousand nucleotides, so that each segment of three nucleotides—called a triplet or codon —codes for one particular amino acid in the protein.
Substitutions in the nucleotide sequence of a structural gene may result in changes in the amino acid sequence of the protein, although this is not always the case. The genetic code is redundant in that different triplets may hold the code for the same amino acid. If the last A is replaced by C, the triplet still codes for isoleucine, but if it is replaced by G, it codes for methionine instead. The effect of base substitutions, or point mutations, on the messenger-RNA codon AUA, which codes for the amino acid isoleucine.
Substitutions red letters at the first, second, or third position in the codon can result in nine new codons corresponding to six different amino acids in addition to isoleucine itself. The chemical properties of some of these amino acids are quite different from those of isoleucine. Replacement of one amino acid in a protein by another can seriously affect the protein's biological function.