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Wikipedia vs CHAT-GPT on establishing the genetic details of the evolutionary process with a moth.

Wikipedia vs CHAT-GPT on establishing the genetic details of the evolutionary process with a moth. I was fascinated by an account I read of "urban evolution" and this led to me to learn more about Kettlewell. This following account of his work, and the challenge to it, is taken from Wikipedia....

Henry Bernard Davis Kettlewell (24 February 1907 – 11 May 1979) was a British geneticist, lepidopterist and medical doctor, who performed research on the influence of industrial melanism on peppered moth (Biston betularia) coloration, showing why moths are darker in polluted areas. This experiment is cited as a classic demonstration of natural selection in action.

His grant was to study industrial melanism in general and in particular the peppered moth Biston betularia which had been studied by William Bateson during the 1890s. Kettlewell's research from three surveys between 1952 and 1972 seemed to show a static pattern with a high frequency of the dark-coloured carbonaria phenotype in industrial regions, and the light coloured typica moths the most common in more rural areas. In the first of Kettlewell's experiments moths were released into an aviary to observe how insectivorous birds reacted. He showed that the birds ate the moths, and found that if the camouflage of the moths made them difficult for him to see against a matching background, the birds too had difficulty in finding the moths. Most famously he then performed experiments involving releasing and then recapturing marked moths in polluted woodlands in Birmingham, and in unpolluted rural woods at Deanend Wood, Dorset, England. He demonstrated experimentally the efficiency of natural selection as an evolutionary force: light-coloured moths are more conspicuous than dark-coloured ones in industrial areas, where the vegetation is darkened by pollution, and are therefore easier prey for birds, but are less conspicuous in unpolluted rural areas, where the vegetation is lighter in colour, and therefore survive predation better. His experiment resulted in better understanding of industrial melanism and its effects on the evolution of species, and can be seen as an important example of urban evolution.


J.B.S. Haldane was of the opinion that Kettlewell had attempted to capitalise on Haldane's own observations, made as early as 1924, of the statistical probability of rate of change from light to melanic forms of the peppered moth. In 1961, Haldane and his graduate student (and later wife) Helen Spurway told Canadian lepidopterist Gary Botting that they questioned Kettlewell's data since it too "nicely" approximated Haldane's 1924 statistical calculations. Botting and Haldane at that time shared the opinion that some genetic mechanism other than bird predation was at work. However see also for a re-appraisal of Haldane's views.

The major argument was made by Theodore David Sargent, professor of zoology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He reported that during 1965–1969 he attempted to perform similar experiment, and found that birds did not have preference on moth on either black or white tree trunks. He suspected that Kettlewell trained the birds to pick moths on tree trunk, where they were not normally present.

Of Moths and Men

Further criticism of Kettlewell's peppered moth research came from Judith Hooper in her 2002 book Of Moths and Men, in which she claims that Kettlewell's field notes could never be found and his experiments were fraudulent, reiterating Sargent's allegations that the experimental photographs were faked by planting dead moths on a log. She accuses Ford of being a Darwinian zealot who exploited Kettlewell's servitude and criticises scientists in general for credulous and biased acceptance of evolution.

A review in EMBO Reports describes the book as "Hooper's exhilarating account of the public and private lives of an opinionated and powerful group of evolutionists, who contributed to this shameful episode in the study of evolution." The book has also been widely quoted by creationists.However, Hooper's various allegations have been refuted by the scientific community: David W Rudge summarised that "none of Hooper's arguments is found to withstand careful scrutiny" and that all "these charges are baseless and stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science as a process."

Further research vindicating Kettlewell's work

Kettlewell's experiments have been vindicated by elaborate research, and the genetic details of the evolutionary process established.


so here I asked AI to give me a resume of the work done by Kettlewell, and this is what it came back with.... accurate, but lacking in a lot of the controversy that was a key part of this story.

Henry Bernard Davis Kettlewell, born on February 24, 1907, and passing away on May 11, 1979, was a remarkable British geneticist, lepidopterist, and medical doctor. His pioneering research on the peppered moth (Biston betularia) and its response to industrial melanism remains a classic demonstration of natural selection in action.

During the early 1950s, Kettlewell embarked on a series of groundbreaking experiments to investigate the impact of industrial pollution on the evolution of moth coloration. At the time, the peppered moth was a widely studied species in England, known for its mottled black-and-white wing pattern. However, anecdotal evidence suggested that in areas with heavy industrialization and pollution, a darker variety of the moth seemed to be more prevalent.

Kettlewell was determined to test this hypothesis and shed light on the potential role of natural selection in the observed color variations. He meticulously designed experiments to study the moth's behavior and survival rates in different environments. His investigations took place primarily in Birmingham, England, where he examined populations of both light and dark moths living in unpolluted and polluted areas.

To conduct his experiments, Kettlewell released live moths onto trees in different habitats, both industrial areas heavily stained by soot and cleaner rural locations. He carefully observed the moths' behavior during the day and night, noting their resting positions and the extent to which they were camouflaged against the bark of the trees. Kettlewell also studied predation rates by observing how frequently birds preyed upon the moths in different environments.

The results of Kettlewell's experiments were striking. In areas with low pollution levels, the lighter-colored moths were indeed better camouflaged against the lichen-covered tree bark and had a higher survival rate. In contrast, in heavily polluted regions where the tree trunks were stained with soot, the darker moths had a survival advantage. They were far less visible to predatory birds, increasing their chances of survival and reproduction.

Kettlewell's work provided strong evidence for the process of natural selection in action. The pollution acted as a selective pressure, favoring the survival and reproduction of moths with colorations that offered better camouflage against their surroundings. Over time, this led to an increase in the frequency of the darker, melanistic form of the peppered moth in industrial areas, as they were more likely to pass on their advantageous traits to future generations.

These experiments by Kettlewell became iconic in the field of evolutionary biology, as they elegantly demonstrated the power of natural selection to drive adaptive changes in populations. His research played a pivotal role in popularizing the concept of industrial melanism and its relationship to pollution. Moreover, Kettlewell's work had broader implications, contributing to our understanding of how organisms can respond and adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Henry Bernard Davis Kettlewell's legacy extends far beyond his experiments on the peppered moth. His research has inspired countless scientists and continues to be cited as a pivotal study in evolutionary biology and the study of natural selection. His dedication and meticulous approach have left an indelible mark on our understanding of the interplay between genetics, ecology, and the environment.


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