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Bob LaGarde-Book Review Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

April 19, 2016

Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

By Richard C. Francis
W.W. Norton 2015

Richard Francis book, Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World, proved to be a worthy vehicle for moving from a basic understanding of Darwinian evolutionary principles to a deeper understanding of current scientific research into newer and more discrete forces of evolutionary developmental biology (evo devo) and to a lesser extent, epigenetics.

Francis opens with the story of Russian genetic scientist, Dmitry Belyaev, and his remarkable experiments in the domestication of foxes.  He lays out the corollary characteristics of the paedomorphic phenotype which emerge as the foxes, over the course of just a few generations, evolve from anti-social creatures hissing at their caretakers from the back of their cages to floppy-eared, tail-wagging cuddlers relishing human companionship.  By acquainting the reader with the concept of evolutionary developmental biology, Francis is able to explain the genetic changes which accompany the transition of Belyaev's foxes from the wild to domesticated form.

Frances probes the self-domestication thesis which has been put forward by Duke University Evolutionary Anthropology researcher Brain Hare. Hare has studied the Belyaev experiments as compared to the domesticated behavior of bonobos in comparison to chimpanzees.  Hare has noted that the same change to a more paedomorphic phenotype has emerged with the more sociable bonobos as compared to their more aggressive chimpanzee cousins.

For the reader who is willing to take the time to develop an understanding of the material being presented, Francis brings together most of the important concepts that underlie current evolutionary developmental biology and which are critical to anyone who wishes to intelligently follow the rapid discoveries that are being made in biology, human development, genetics and DNA related research.
Submitted by: Robert (Bob) LaGarde
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