Selective breeding is a process that humans use to select parents from plants or animals that have specific characteristics of interest. The hope of making this selection is that the offspring will inherit the desirable traits, allowing future generations to benefit from the chosen changes.
This practice has been in place for thousands of years. Humans have used selective breeding to help produce crops that produce higher yields, plants that have specific shapes or colors, and farm animals that offer better meat or complementary products with higher quality. We see it most often in dogs because there are specific temperaments or physiques that can go to the next generation.
We take these actions so that the characteristic of the plants or animals adapt to ways that are desirable for humanity. That means we can grow more food or enhance production profits, but it also requires us to shape living organisms in our vision instead of allowing them to evolve naturally.
There are several advantages and disadvantages of selective breeding to consider before implementing these processes.
List of the Advantages of Selective Breeding
1. Profits increase when selective breeding is applied to agricultural practices.
The use of selective breeding has numerous benefits from the perspective of an agricultural product producer. Dairy farmers could choose cattle that produce high quantities of milk to reproduce so that their output levels can increase. Steers are approached in the same way to encourage faster and leaner meat production for the meat chain. Plants from crops with the highest yields can have their seeds saved to see if the same result can occur in the next growing season.
These advantages all help to increase the number of products and their quality for the farmer. That means the marketplace is willing to pay more for the items, so there is an improvement in the standard of living.
2. Selective breeding can add new genetic varieties to species.
When humans engage in the selective breeding process, they are helping the natural evolution process move along. Plants and animals would create genetic variations over time if left to their own device eventually. We’re just speeding up the process so that we can benefit from the changes that occur. The advantages in this category are numerous, including the creation of living organisms with better resistance levels. If we can create products that produce a consistent yield with less exposure to disease or pests, then the food chain stabilized as agricultural producers profit from the activity.
3. Anyone can participate in the selective breeding process.
Anyone working in any form of agriculture or animal husbandry can take advantage of the benefits of selective breeding. The actual process has zero patent protections in place. You have the ability to cross-pollinate plants, choose pet parents, or take additional actions that encourage the development of desirable traits in the species. When these traits go to subsequent generations, then the potential for profits can increase exponentially. Many of the activities taken in this area are possible without the need for special skills either.
4. There are no safety issues to manage under most circumstances.
Selective breeding takes advantage of the natural evolutionary process to pass along desirable traits. That means we can avoid the use of genetically modified organisms where different DNA fragments might get inserted into a genome to create specific results instead. We don’t need to worry about what artificial tampering could cause, especially if those actions were taken to create food items.
There can be concerns for the next generation of plants or animals if one or both of the selected parents have unfavorable traits. Those can be passed along to offspring just as much as the desirable ones, which means there is the potential to create new disease carriers that could impact the long-term health of the entire species.
5. Selective breeding can help to eliminate problematic diseases.
The practice of selective breeding gives us the ability to eliminate specific diseases from different plants and animals. If we can identify immunity traits that combat problematic areas in the chain of life, then it gives us more control over the outcome of each generation. This advantage is similar to the idea of a vaccine, except the process incorporates the immunities into the genetic profile of the organism instead of requiring updates to the physical health of each plant or animal.
6. It helps to provide a food chain with better sustainability.
Human populations are continuing to grow on our planet at a rapid pace. Estimates suggest that there could be 10 billion people living here by the year 2050. That figure could reach 20 billion people by 2150. That means we must take a proactive and aggressive approach to our food production methods to ensure the survival of our species. By practicing selective breeding, our agricultural sectors can create a food chain that offers the sustainability we need.
These practices allow us to create crop yields that are higher while reducing the amount of water each plant requires. It will lower to cost of food creation at the same time, which means the potential for the complete eradication of hunger is possible within the next generation or two.
7. This practice lets us use land areas that may not be suitable for current products.
The desirable traits in plants and animals that we create over time are useful in the adaptation to different growing or living conditions. Even the desert tribal cultures were able to use this advantage to their benefit, creating crops of corn that could grow in the desert without any automation or hard work.
There are certain rules that you must follow, like soaking sees overnight before planting them or planting them in blocks to encourage pollination. If you remain persistent, then it becomes possible to use these methods to help life flourish almost anywhere on our planet. We could even take these techniques into space or use them for future interplanetary colonization efforts.
8. Artificial selection gives us the ability to create new species.
When we look at the selective breeding practices with food plants, we get to increase the quality and yield of each harvest when we follow this technique correctly. Our approach to corn has helped to increase the number of ears a plant produces while improving the size of each kernel simultaneously. Using this technique with cotton helps us to create new varieties that provide better fibers so that our textiles are of better quality without additional processing work.
We can even use selective breeding techniques to create new species or varieties. Orchids, roses, and tulips have smaller or larger blooms of different colors because of the techniques used in this process.
9. Selective breeding can be used to refine a species.
We use selective breeding practices with dogs within the same breed to refine the species. It gives us the option to pick two complementary partners so that it becomes possible to fix genetic traits for future generations. We can reinforce certain skills or aptitudes so that the puppies in the next generation maintains the evolutionary forward progress. There must be a short- and long-term goal in place for the benefits of artificial selection to be useful, which is why many of these efforts fail.
It can take multiple generations to start reinforcing specific traits within a species. If a breeder expects instant results with a first-generation offspring, then the results will not likely meet the individual expectations of the effort.
10. It gives us an opportunity to focus on specialization.
The first use of selective breeding in dogs is to create specializations that go beyond a specific breed. Before there were any kennel clubs or breed associations, humans were breeding canines so that they could have the desired qualities for the tasks that people had at the time. That’s why there are hunting, herding, and family dogs. Each group serves a specific purpose that makes life better.
Even though it can take several decades of effort to create the desired result, the effort of hundreds or thousands of breeding opportunities will eventually shape plants or animals to adapt to their environment better.
11. Crossbreeding allows for genetic diversity to continue.
One of the most effective ways to create desirable traits within a species is to perform crossbreeding. This practice involves two unrelated parents with desirable traits from each one. This practice happens with dogs frequently, like the work of partnering a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle to create a Labradoodle. The offspring from such a pairing creates a lower shedding coat and fewer dander issues, resulting in a dog with guiding capabilities and a temperament that is suitable for all ages without being a significant allergen trigger.
The only problem with crossbreeding and other low-risk methods of artificial selection is that the outcomes are less predictable.
List of the Disadvantages of Selective Breeding
1. It creates a population of plants or animals that have very similar genetics.
When an entire species has a similar genetic profile, then that means the plants or animals will have the same strengths and weaknesses. That means it is easier for an infectious disease to spread through the entire population because every individual is susceptible to the impact of that event.
Panama disease for banana plants is an excellent example of this disadvantage of selective breeding. The first outbreak of it almost entirely devastated the commercial Gros Michel banana around the world. We’re encountering this problem again with Tropical Race 4 having a threatening impact on the Cavendish bananas that are grown today too.
2. There is no control over genetic mutations when selective breeding.
There are numerous benefits to consider when using selective breeding to develop specific traits. We can also do nothing about the spontaneous mutations that occur within each generation. That means we do not have full control over what the outcome of the offspring will be. Errors in the genetic transfer process can occur as well that may impact the plants or animals in adverse ways as well.
Random mutations can create positive impacts on plants and animals, but it is more likely to be an adverse event. This disadvantage means that it is possible to do everything right and still wind up with a less-than-favorable result.
3. The desirable traits for humans may not be reflective of species’ needs.
Let’s use the example of the dairy farmer who selectively breeds in his herd to create offspring that will produce more milk in the next generation. What happens if the udder remains small, but the quantity of fluid increases to match the genetic traits of the mother? The result would be a cow that may be uncomfortable all of the time because there is no way to fully process what she produces. This issue can be seen in all species, especially in the animal kingdom, when we over-emphasize certain traits.
There are several animals that humans have influenced over the years that fit into this category. Justin Kobylka, who breeds snakes, spent eight years breeding pythons to have spots that look like smiley faces. The Gibber Italicus Canary is bred because of its unusual posture. Then there are the Scaleless chickens that don’t grow feathers, but they are challenging to breed because they can’t even flap their wings.
4. There is no guarantee that the positive traits will go to the offspring.
The best way to guarantee that the offspring of plants or animals develop the desirable traits is to select two parents with the exact genetic profile you want to see in the next generation. Because there is usually only one parent with the traits desired, there is a 50/50 chance that the next generation will see it. Some of them might only have a 1 in 4 chance of passing something along.
It is entirely possible for artificial selection to create offspring that have different traits than their parents. It is possible to even lose permanent traits because of this process or pick up new ones that are even more desirable than the previous generation.
5. A decrease in genetic diversity creates a higher risk of mutation.
When there are lower levels of genetic diversity within a species, then there is a higher risk of mutation for each subsequent generation. This risk continues to exist until there is no longer a genetic bottleneck in place. We can even see this issue in human beings when certain ethnic communities decide to stay together and inter-marry instead of looking to the outside world to settle down and start a family.
When the same breeding process is used repetitively, then environmental influences can impact the genetic diversity of the plants or animals as well. This disadvantage can make the species more susceptible to genetic diseases over time, which could limit the potential number of offspring in future generations.
6. Artificial selection changes the evolution of each species.
Our practice of selective breeding artificially interferes with the natural evolutionary process. We start shaping the plants and animals in our vision instead of letting Mother Nature do the work so that habitat adaptation occurs. This activity increases the risk of genetic loss, which is almost impossible to stop once it starts.
The plants and animals we create through this artificial process can have an adverse impact on the environment as well. If we create crops that require more water, then it might drain wetlands or impact the groundwater table, reducing the diversity of the local ecosystem. This disadvantage creates an additional risk for extinction-level events all because of our desire to create something that might not occur naturally.
7. This practice increases the risk of inbreeding.
This disadvantage is also referred to as the “coefficient of relationship.” It is a measurement of the degree of consanguinity that exists in each plant or animal based on its overall pedigree. When two parents are closely related to one another, then the desired traits are fixed and almost guaranteed to pass on to the next generation. This practice also increases the issue of disease development, creating potential problems that could last for several generations.
Purebred dogs almost always come from the same small group that initially established the breed. That means the coefficient of inbreeding rises with each generation. That’s why breeders who work with anything but simple biological life must check the pedigree of the plants or animals with which they work to identify common ancestors and bottlenecks right away.
8. Selective breeding creates a problem with popular sires.
The popular sire syndrome occurs when there is one specific stud in a species that receives numerous breeding requests that humans fulfill. This process usually involves artificial insemination, resulting in future generations sharing too much genetic material because there is one specific trait from that one plant or animal that everyone wanted.
This disadvantage can happen quickly within a species, sometimes happening in a single generation. When other people believe that there are strong traits that can pass along winning genetics, this issue can adversely impact a species for a long time afterward.
9. Undesired outcomes often encourage the disposal of life.
When plants or animals create offspring without the desired trait, then it is not unusual for that generation to be treated as a discarded commodity. Even though pet ownership is more accessible, and crops are better because of these practices, there are multiple incidents of abandonment when things don’t go the breeder’s way. This disadvantage can even lead to the development of puppy mills and other controversial methods of generational development that are based more on the money that people can earn instead of the welfare of the species in question.
Our efforts at selective breeding make it possible for the best characteristics of plants and animals to pass on to the next generation. When these offspring have desirable traits, then future generations can expand on the benefits of this genetic profile.
It is a method that lets us make tastier foods, healthier animals, and more resilient crops. This important process can help the agricultural industries around the world continue to profit even as environmental conditions keep on changing. There are also risks to this behavior that we must consider because our activities could hasten the changing processes we see on our planet today.
The advantages and disadvantages of selective breeding must go through a careful evaluation process to ensure that we aren’t causing more harm than good. By looking at the history of the species and what the current needs of nature are, then it will be easier to make consistently good decisions in this area.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.