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A Changing Relationship to Evolution

While work with evolving systems entirely created by humans goes back only two or three decades, and the currently accepted theory of evolution originated with Darwin and Wallace in 1859 [4], the applied science of evolution predates both by ten to fifteen thousand years. Management of the evolution of other species has been a fundamental aspect of the human condition since the origin of agriculture, and formed the basis of civilization.

At this time humans were already scattered to all inhabitable regions of the world and began to domesticate plants and animals for food and pets. This domestication process, in large part, involves controlling the evolution of the other species. We influence where they live, how many individuals there are in the population, and which individuals reproduce.

Through this process, we have been able to transform the wild products of organic evolution from fairly poor quality food and pets into the very high quality domesticated organisms that we enjoy today: rice, corn, wheat, chicken, pigs, cows, dog, cats, etc. All of these organisms have been dramatically altered from the wild condition in which our ancestors found them, through breeding (the application of fitness functions).

However, this is not the only method that we have used to derive applications from the process of organic evolution. There are many living organisms from which we derive useful products, which we use essentially in their wild state. Mahogany is used for its very high quality wood, and alligators for their leather, with no artificial breeding. Some species fall between: silk moths and minks are farmed, but probably have been subjected to relatively little breeding.

Thomas S.Ray
Mon Jul 15 15:51:28 JST 1996