Natural selection is the gradual, non-random process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution. The term "natural selection" was popularized by Charles Darwin who intended it to be compared with artificial selection, what we now call selective breeding.
Variation exists within all populations of organisms. This occurs partly because random mutations cause changes in the genome of an individual organism, and these mutations can be passed to offspring. Throughout the individuals’ lives, their genomes interact with their environments to cause variations in traits. (The environment of a genome includes the molecular biology in the cell, other cells, other individuals, populations, species, as well as the abiotic environment.) Individuals with certain variants of the trait may survive and reproduce more than individuals with other variants. Therefore the population evolves. Factors that affect reproductive success are also important, an issue that Charles Darwin developed in his ideas on sexual selection, for example. Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, but the genetic (heritable) basis of any phenotype that gives a reproductive advantage will become more common in a population (see allele frequency). Over time, this process can result in populations that specialize for particular ecological niches and may eventually result in the emergence of new species. In other words, natural selection is an important process (though not the only process) by which evolution takes place within a population of organisms. As opposed to artificial selection, in which humans favour specific traits, in natural selection the environment acts as a sieve through which only certain variations can pass.
Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of modern biology. The term was introduced by Darwin in his influential 1859 book On the Origin of Species, in which natural selection was described as analogous to artificial selection, a process by which animals and plants with traits considered desirable by human breeders are systematically favored for reproduction. The concept of natural selection was originally developed in the absence of a valid theory of heredity; at the time of Darwin's writing, nothing was known of modern genetics. The union of traditional Darwinian evolution with subsequent discoveries in classical and molecular genetics is termed the modern evolutionary synthesis. Natural selection remains the primary explanation for adaptive evolution.
Famous quotes containing the words natural selection, natural and/or selection:
“Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no minds eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of the watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.”
—Richard Dawkins (b. 1941)
“It is a mass language only in the same sense that its baseball slang is born of baseball players. That is, it is a language which is being molded by writers to do delicate things and yet be within the grasp of superficially educated people. It is not a natural growth, much as its proletarian writers would like to think so. But compared with it at its best, English has reached the Alexandrian stage of formalism and decay.”
—Raymond Chandler (18881959)
“The books for young people say a great deal about the selection of Friends; it is because they really have nothing to say about Friends. They mean associates and confidants merely.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)