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History of Scientific Agriculture: Animals

  1. R Paul Thompson

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020136



How to Cite

Paul Thompson, R. 2009. History of Scientific Agriculture: Animals. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Toronto, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009


Domestication of farm animals begins 10 000 years ago. From a wide array of wild animals, only a small number were and, for specifiable reasons, could be domesticated. Trait selection and breeding has been the principal mechanism of animal improvement until the late twentieth century. An understanding of the genetic mechanisms and environmental factors in that process was a twentieth-century triumph, which enhanced dramatically agricultural animal science. Drawing on physiological, behaviour, genetic, evolutionary and ecological knowledge, sophisticated mathematical models and high speed computing were employed to enhance significantly selection and breeding efforts. Late twentieth-century agricultural biology began to employ techniques of molecular genetic manipulation (transgenic animals), initially using farm animals as bioreactors. Improvements in cloning, pro-nuclear injection and use of stem cells can be expected to dominate research and development in twenty-first-century animal agriculture.

Key Concepts

  • The early evolution of animal domestication.

  • Human and agricultural animal coevolution.

  • Mechanisms of speciation.

  • Quantitative genetics aspect of farm animal improvement.

  • Critical variables in trait farm animal trait selection.

  • Importance of multiple trait selection.

  • Animals as pharmaceutical and materials bioreactors.

  • Challenges and promises of cloning, pro-nuclear injection and stem cell use in animal agriculture.


  • animal domestication;
  • selective breeding;
  • quantitative genetics;
  • transgenic animals;
  • animal bioreactors