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Simple Genetics

Simple Genetics - A Brief Introduction to Basic Genetics...

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A Brief Introduction to Basic Genetics Applications to Understanding Evolution
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Darwin and Natural Selection Many people associate Charles Darwin with ‘evolution’, since he wrote The Origin of Species . In fact, Darwin did NOT develop the notion of evolution. The fact (i.e. observable, empirical, measurable) of change in species over time had been recognized since the time of ancient Greeks. Darwin provided the mechanism by which this change (or the origin of new species) might occur: natural selection.
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What is ‘natural selection?’ Natural selection is simply the idea that, within each breeding population, some individuals have traits (phenotypes) that enable them to compete more successfully for mates than others. This advantage is called natural selection .
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Social Darwinism The phrase ‘survival of the fittest,’ is a form of natural selection. When the term ‘survival of the fittest’ is applied to social, economic and political conditions, it is often called ‘Social Darwinism’. Curiously, when sociologist Herbert Spencer coined this phrase to explain why some societies replace others, and why some rise in social class, while others fall, he was embraced by many. This was ten years before Darwin published his work!
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Problems with “Survival of the Fittest” There are many problems with this notion. Two of these are below: First , what is ‘fit’ in one environment, may not be in another. Fitness is relative to time and place . Second , evolution was equated with ‘ progress’ which assumes a single line of development for all societies, often assuming that one’s own society is the most ‘advanced’ and others more ‘primitive.’ This is what cultural anthropologists call ethnocentrism.
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Genetics: The Missing Piece In your reading, you learned about Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk who stumbled on to the principles of genetics. It took a while, but by the 20 th Century, the scientific community began to ‘rediscover’ his work and the modern scientific field of genetics began to grow. While Darwin’s discovery of natural selection explained how nature worked on different physical traits, it did not explain where or how differences in traits came about in the first place.
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