Selective breeding

Selective breeding or artificial selection is when humans breed plants and animals for particular genetic characteristics. Humans have bred food crops from wild plants and domesticated animals for thousands of years.

Selective breeding is when humans breed plants and animals for particular genetic characteristics. Humans have bred food crops from wild plants and domesticated animals for thousands of years.

Main steps involved

Selective breeding takes place over many generations. These are the main steps for both plants and animals:

  1. Decide which characteristics are important enough to select.
  2. Choose parents that show these characteristics from a mixed population. They are bred together.
  3. Choose the best offspring with the desired characteristics to produce the next generation.
  4. Repeat the process continuously over many generations, until all offspring show the desired characteristics.
Highland cow

Highland cows have been bred for their meat

Farmers selectively breed different types of cows with highly desirable characteristics in order to produce the best meat and dairy.

Characteristics can be chosen for usefulness or appearance.

Desired characteristics in plants:

  • disease resistance in food crops
  • wheat plants that produce lots of grain
  • large or unusual flowers

Desired characteristics in animals:

  • animals that produce lots of milk or meat
  • chickens that lay large eggs
  • domestic dogs that have a gentle nature
  • sheep with good quality wool
  • horses with fine features and a very fast pace

The new varieties may be economically important. For example, they may provide more or better quality food.