Rabbit evolution in three countries, claim scientists in articles in Science (AAAS) News 14 February 2019, and Science 14 February 2019, doi: 10.1126/science.aau7285.

European rabbits were introduced into Australia in the mid 1800s and over the following decades they multiplied and spread, eventually reaching plague proportions, and devastated crops and pasturelands. In 1950 the myxoma virus was introduced into Australia as a means of biological control of rabbits. The virus caused a disease named myxomatosis, which wiped out enormous numbers of rabbits, but some survived and there has now been a resurgence in their numbers. The virus was later introduced into France and from there spread to the UK.

An international team of researchers has now studied the genetics of rabbits from the pre-myxomatosis era using specimens from museums, and compared them with the now resistant rabbits. As reported in Science News: “The comparisons revealed changes in many genes, usually a shift in the frequency of particular versions, or alleles, of a gene. Strikingly, half of the changes were shared by the rabbits in all three countries—evidence of parallel evolution.”

The researchers wrote in the conclusion of their report: “This was a consequence of natural selection acting on standing genetic variation that was present in the ancestral rabbit populations in continental Europe and was retained in the subsequent colonization process of the UK and Australia. The presence of this variation likely explains the rapid development of resistance to myxomatosis observed in rabbit populations almost immediately after the first outbreaks and may frequently be critical to allow populations to respond to novel pathogens.”


Editorial Comment: The researchers admit that some rabbits already had gene variations that enabled them to resist the virus. Also, the change was a shift in gene frequency, (i.e. numbers of copies) of already existing genes, rather than the appearance of new genes that previously did not exist. The fact that it happened in three countries simply means that some rabbits in all three countries, already had the same gene variants. Therefore, the only valid conclusion is that no rabbits have evolved anywhere.

This may be a classic example of selection, but it is not evolution. Some rabbits have survived and others have died, leaving survivors to continue to ‘breed like rabbits’, so several decades later scientists in Australia have to find another virus to control them.

The rise of resistance to disease, or chemicals, is often proclaimed as evolution, but as in this example, it is simply strong selection in favour of a few individuals who already have the resistance genes. As we have said many times, selection, whether natural or man-made, is a real biological process, but it is not evolution. It is about time biologists admitted this, and stopped trying to deceive people by labelling all biological processes as evolution.

For more information see the Question: MYXOMATOSIS: Is the change in rabbit myxoma virus to be less deadly an example of evolution? Answer here.

Evidence News vol. 19, No. 3
13 March 2019
Creation Research Australia

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