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Domesticated Rice: the Power of Artificial Selection.

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I suspect that almost every week there’s at least one article published somewhere that undermines Darwinian theory.

Now using the term, ‘Darwinian theory’, might ruffle some people’s feathers. Yet, without Darwinian theory, neo-Darwinism makes no sense; it lacks any intellectual foundation. And, so, here we are inching towards the 200th anniversary of Origin of Species and 21st-Century evolutionary biologists remain saddled with 19th-Century thinking.

With that said, this “week’s” article comes from Phys.Org and it offers a newer understanding of rice domestication. We find out that the results of an international collaboration “suggest that the emergence of cultivated rice from wild rice plants is the result of three gene mutations that make the seeds (i.e. the grains of rice) fall from the plant less easily.” They tell us that they believe “the domestication of wild rice began when our ancestors discovered and started to cultivate rice plants that do not drop their seeds easily, paving the way for stable rice production.”

Now why should this be a problem for “Darwinian theory”? Because Darwin’s firm belief is that “natural selection” is much more powerful than even artificial, or human, selection. He says: “But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art.”

So, the power of “natural selection” is a power always ready to act and one that is “immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts.” Yet, the researchers found that “each of the three mutations individually have little effect but when all three mutations are present the panicles of the rice plant retain more of their seeds- resulting in a greater crop yield.” It took humans, then, to “force” nature to go in a direction it desired. And when humans got involved, all three mutations could come together all at once.

In the, “Significance” portion of their abstract, the researchers speak of the ‘significance’ of their work: “We demonstrate that closed panicle formation controlled by SPR3 both increases yield and facilitates recruitment of sh4 and qSH3, which synergistically augment yield, leading to a stepwise model for rice domestication.”

Aren’t we told by evolutionary biologists that Mt. Improbable is climbed in a “step-wise” fashion. Well, here is a stepwise opportunity that natural selection didn’t take. It can be argued, rightly, that it is NOT in the best interest of the wild rice to stick to the plant and not fall down into the earth below where they might find a place to reproduce. However, it seems that a simple THREE-STEP progression is one that nature is unable to make. (Again, it can be argued that if such an occurrence takes place, then the wild type seed will have the advantage and so drive the domesticated type to extinction. Yet one would think that somewhere in the world this would have happened and that those studying nature would have run across them.) The scientists tell us this:

“Non-seed-shattering behavior” caused by sh4 and qSH3 mutations and “closed panicles” caused by the SPR3 mutation are completely unrelated characteristics, however the incidental collaboration between these characteristics is considered to be what enabled rice to become a crop.

They then add this parable from the 16th century Japanese warlord Mori Motonari:
“Motonari gave each of his three sons an arrow and they were able to break the individual arrows easily. However, a bundle of three arrows is stronger and by showing his sons that three arrows together could not be broken, he explained that the three of them should work together govern the land. In rice cultivars, three mutations that have little effect on their own incidentally work together—an important stepping stone towards the success of rice as a crop.”

Applied here, the parable tells us that “natural selection” can’t “find” domesticated rice–the force against it is like the three arrows: too strong for NS to break through. But humans, on the other hand, had very little difficulty in bringing about this change. So, if NS is really a power “immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts,” then why can artificial selection bring about what NS has not brought about in nature?

The dachshund and the Great Dane were not brought about by “Nature”. Has any fossils been recovered corresponding to these forms? Yet man has brought them about. Why does this 19th century way of thinking hold any influence in our 21st century world? Is it the intransigence of science?

8 Replies to “Domesticated Rice: the Power of Artificial Selection.

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    Those interested should read Matt Ridley.

    How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom

    He has a long chapter on food/grain/fertilizer development.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Well, here is a stepwise opportunity that natural selection didn’t take. It can be argued, rightly, that it is NOT in the best interest of the wild rice to stick to the plant and not fall down into the earth below where they might find a place to reproduce. However, it seems that a simple THREE-STEP progression is one that nature is unable to make.

    Nature didn’t do X.
    It wasn’t in nature’s best interest to do X
    Therefore nature can’t do X.

    Interesting logic. Never mind that Nature actually did do X, once the conditions were right (i.e. human cultivation).

  3. 3
    chuckdarwin says:

    [T]he parable tells us that “natural selection” can’t “find” domesticated rice…

    It’s unclear what point the author is trying to make with this post, that NS and human domestication of a plant result in different adaptive traits? This is news? It’s called “domestication” for a reason. More to the point: why would NS produce this “simple” three step progression that is unhelpful for propagating rice plants under natural (versus artificial) conditions?
    The author claims:

    [T]hat almost every week there’s at least one article published somewhere that undermines Darwinian theory.

    This is not one of those articles–the article is completely consistent with the principles of NS…

  4. 4
    PaV says:

    Bob O’H:

    There wasn’t domesticated rice until man brought it about. Nature never happened upon it: that is, man didn’t “find” domesticated rice, he forced nature to produce it. If Nature can’t find its way to a new form that is the result of only three mutational steps–remember, it’s NS + RV, then what can NS really bring about? That is, the limits of NS force RM to produce multiple variations all at once–and genetics tell us how improbable of all that is.

    We’re back to Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” calculations. NS can’t do much.

    Artificial selection came about first. Darwin stole the notion from breeders and then postulated that breeders couldn’t keep up with Natural Selection. As a means of “adaption,” this view of Darwin may be the correct one; but, when it comes to innovation, new forms, it’s power is way less than that of breeders–as the reality of animal and plant breeds demonstrates. NS can kill; but it can’t bring to life. It can displace; but it can’t replace.

  5. 5
    PaV says:

    Chuckdarwin:

    The article is completely consistent with the limitations of NS +RM. Nature can’t produce the RM that are necessary, or else humans would have “found” domesticated rice and not brought it about. Just as you won’t find a Golden Retriever in nature, but you will find it in someone’s back yard.

    Darwin’s argument is that NS is directly responsible for all the forms of life we now find. Now, if that’s true, then NS is greater than AS (artificial selection). But this reasoning is circular since it presupposes what it wants to demonstrate. What’s the “evidence” that NS is responsible for the forms of life we now find? Some equation based on death statistics?

    Artificial selection demonstrates that the genome of organisms (some) are subject to the interventions of intelligent beings. Is, then, the entire genome the product of an intelligent being? I don’t have “proof” of that any more than you have “proof” that NS has brought about all of life.

  6. 6
    jerry says:

    Sort of relevant- I’m watching a course on ecology from the Great Courses.

    Ecology because of politics and the obvious has switched from a study of the wilderness to a study of the human impact on nearly every aspect of the planet. I have maintained that ecology, the wilderness, prevents too much change from happening because any change that wasn’t minor would produce dominant species that would destroy the ecology because the newly adapted better species that would then dominate.

    However, humans have been affecting the ecology for hundreds of thousands of years with artificial selection. But that is intelligence.

    Somehow in all this time, the human species itself has not gotten better/produced variations that have become more dominant by natural selection. Why? It would seem a natural for natural selection.

    Aside: Some have tried pushing eugenics to artificially select better humans something that natural selection obviously has not done.

  7. 7
    Fasteddious says:

    I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Bob & Chuck @2&3 here. The quote says, “the domestication of wild rice began when our ancestors discovered and started to cultivate rice plants that do not drop their seeds easily, paving the way for stable rice production.” This is simple artificial selection at work; something generated naturally is found to be of value to humans, so they select and grow it in volume for their own uses. The three mutations appear to be natural, and just happened to come together in one seed to produce a plant which retained its seeds. Very clever of those humans to note this and then save the seeds for planting!
    The OP seems to confuse natural and artificial selection. The three mutations were not selected naturally. Indeed, retaining its seeds would probably have doomed this variant in the natural world. It was only through unnatural selection for different purposes that this variant became important. Humans had no role in generating the mutations, and nature had little role in the selection process. Looks like classic plant/animal breeding/domestication. Unless I’m missing something in the picture, this piece says very little about Neo-Darwinism, or about ID for that matter.

  8. 8
    PaV says:

    Fasteddious:

    There is a subtle point to all of this. Domesticated rice is distinguished from naturally occurring rice plants through 3 different mutations. Let’s call them A, B and C. The subtle point is this: nature can produce a plant with B and C, but not with all three. If nature produces a plant with A, then B and C are not to be found. Rice is domesticated because humans selected for A and eventually B and C came along. Now, it is, of course, the rice genome that is doing all of this and producing the mutations. That is not in dispute. It is obvious. However, my point is that if it were “easy” for rice to produce all three, then somewhere in the world humans would have happened onto this form of wild rice and there would have been no need to “domesticate” it. What do we conclude from this? In the case of wild rice, three mutations present simultaneously in nature, A, B and C, seem beyond the reach of NS. But this isn’t true of AS. Jerry makes a nice point of this @6.

    Someone would only make a statement like Darwin did–that NS is “immeasurably” more powerful than AS, if they were convinced that the created world of life resulted from the operation of NS all by itself. The view would develop that the comparison of various pigeon breeds produced via AS to the incredible variety of life throughout the world, leads one to conclude that NS “appears” to be much more powerful than AS. But what PROOF do we have that NS is the cause of all of this variety of life? What proof have “evolutionary biologists” provided us? And, in the absence of any such proof, this is but pure conjecture.

    Following the point that jerry@6 makes, humans are capable of “creating” environments, environments in which new forms of life (adaptations) are brought about. Humans can push “nature” to the edge. And what do we see? We see wolves becoming basset hounds; but we don’t see basset hounds becoming elephants. AS can “create” new forms; but NOT new species.

    I’ve said a hundred times on this webpage: if Darwin had entitled his book, The Origin of Adaptations, I would support many of its theses. And, yet, even this ability of NS to adapt species to their environment is now being called into question because of epigenetics and what were learning about directed mutations. I’m looking for 21st Century science.

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