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The title of this article is A Design to Reduce Inbreeding.

Heliconia tortuosa

As our understanding of genetics has improved, we have seen the genetic hazards involved in too small of an animal or plant population. If a plant or animal breeds with a near relative, destructive genetic characteristics are more likely to show up in offspring. You do not breed litter-mates for this reason. Animal breeders are very careful to keep mixing their stock to minimize inbred malformations. The question that comes up for biologists is how inbreeding is avoided in the natural world.

In March 17, 2015, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published a report that addresses this interesting question. Biologists studied a plant known as Heliconia tortuosa which has long tube-like flowers. The plant can be pollinated by six hummingbird species and one butterfly species. But the most successful pollinator by far are the hummingbird species with extra-long, curved bills. Short-billed hummingbirds and butterflies are much less likely to cause the plant to produce more pollen tubes, so the reproduction rate from those sources is low. When long-billed hummingbirds (or fake glass pipettes) came into the plant, it responded with many more pollen tubes and much more nectar. That meant that the pollen from the long-billed birds was the main pollinator of the plant.

When scientists tagged the hummingbirds, they found that the short-billed birds and butterflies all lived very close to the plant. The long-billed hummingbirds flew long distances and covered many miles bringing pollen from distant sources. In that way inbreeding in the plant was greatly reduced. Plants located at great distances would be more likely to have a different genome. The design of the plant to accept primarily the bills of birds coming great distances, combined with the design of the hummingbirds to fly more miles as it gathered nectar, work together to address the issue of inbreeding. We suggest this is a wonderful example of God’s wisdom and design in the creation. Sometimes it takes humans as curious investigators a long time to figure out the design, but a wonder-working hand has gone before us. We suggest that it is the hand of God.

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