WHAT IS ASSISTED EVOLUTION?
Assisted evolution is the term used to describe scientific intervention to artificially accelerate the rate of natural evolution. The goal of this kind of intervention is to help a species adapt more quickly than it would naturally.
The concept of Assisted Evolution (AE) has been practiced for thousands of years, particularly in a commercial context, in relation to the maximization of crop yields.
In more recent years, as the effects of human industry have been felt in the form of accelerated climate change, AE has been increasingly used for the conservation of at-risk species, unable to adapt quickly enough on their own.
In the case of coral reefs, Assisted Evolution has led to the artificial development of corals abler to withstand rising global ocean temperatures and increasing ocean acidification.
There are several techniques used in the assisted evolution of corals. One of these is assisted gene flow (AGF), which increases the presence of certain naturally-occurring genes in offspring. Through experimentation measuring the exhibition of different characteristics in offspring with different genotypes, it can be determined which genes produce which desired effects.
For example, different colonies of the Great Barrier Reef are being tested to determine whether offspring display increased resistance to warmer living conditions, necessary for the preservation of reefs as ocean temperatures continue to rise.
Hybridization, on the other hand, refers to the process whereby the gametes – the egg and sperm – from two different species produce hybrid young. This leads to increased genetic diversity. The experimental hybridization of coral reefs during annual spawning events has led to the production of offspring that will hopefully have higher survival and growth rates in a variety of conditions related to climate change.
“Assisted Evolution.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Mar. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_evolution.