Potatoes Take Down Evolution

English: Potato field off Ballyloughlin Road (...

A potato field in Northern Ireland, where Darwin met his match. ... Image via Wikipedia

Who would ever have thought it possible? It’s true, though: the delicious, versatile, ever-present potato, the most humble and serviceable of all the vegetables, has cut off evolution at the knees and left it to die an inglorious, lonesome death. You can read all about it here, but try this sample on for size:

The Irish potato blight tragedy has long been a useful illustration for creationists of the fallacies of evolutionary thinking. It highlights how selection, even when it ‘improves’ crops, actually reduces the total amount of information (genetic variety).

Selective breeding to enhance certain characteristics has long been common farming practice. Darwin pointed to artificial breeding such as this in his book On the Origin of Species. He saw it (as many still do today) as showing that selection can give uphill improvement, which could eventually lead to totally new creatures. However, he was unaware that enhancing one characteristic through selection is likely to be at the expense of others. This is logical, since selection creates no new information, it only ‘chooses’ from what is there. As a variety becomes more specialized through such selection, it loses some of the genetic richness of its ancestors. This is now recognized by world agricultural authorities, who are scrambling to preserve these ancestral ‘wild types’ of our food crops.

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