[In Our Time] Hybrids


31/10/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=85574605
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07slpq9.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what happens when parents from different species have offspring, despite their genetic differences. In some cases, such as the zebra/donkey hybrid in the image above, the offspring are usually infertile but in others the genetic change can lead to new species with evolutionary advantages. Hybrids can occur naturally, yet most arise from human manipulation and Darwin’s study of plant and animal domestication informed his ideas on natural selection.


Sandra Knapp
Tropical Botanist at the Natural History Museum

Nicola Nadeau
Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sheffield


Steve Jones
Senior Research Fellow in Genetics at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2020-01-27


  • What on earth was this comedy in a science discussion? First Steve Jones making dad jokes like “Homo Sapiens, to which most of us probably belong” and then the whole slut-shaming of orchids.
  • But the comedy aside, that did lead to the discovery for me of how it’s very hard to distinguish between genres and species in plants, and that completely different genera and species of plants can pollinate each other.
  • This also brought back to me the old Class 6 discussion of polyploidy, and how two plants, on crossing each other, can have an offspring that just combines both sets of chromosomes instead of picking one from each parent. What was new for me is learning that the potato is a major example.
  • And speaking of the potato, they brought up how lack of hybridisation made it vulnerable to disease, which brought about the topic of another recent IOT episode, the Irish potato famine. And in something else new for me, learning that Phytophthora, the organism behind the potato famine is not quite a fungus.
  • That is really a lot of Ireland in this past year of In Our Time. I think it’s Brexit anxiety about the Irish border at play. Their next episode in the sequence is about Ireland too.
  • Animals didn’t get quite as much attention, except to say that birds were good at hybridising – but that never went into that much detail, except to say that all duck species can interbreed; and discussing how hybridisation in butterflies led to all butterfly species adopting the same warning colours.
  • Also, after the big deal that Doctor Who made about hybrids, it was amusing to hear a panel talk about how common they are.


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