What happens when you mix two things together? Well, when you mix red and yellow you get orange, a pretty color. When you mix dark chocolate and espresso, you get a mochaccino, yummm. Seems simple enough, but what about more complicated scenarios? A Disney princess and a fish will give you a little mermaid. A camera and a cell will produce a cameraphone; add internet access and a Mac and you have the iPhone – a very nifty hybrid.
“So what exactly is a hybrid, anyway?” asks a WA user.
Answer: It’s a mix of two different things to form one. Usually, it’s to make a better one of whatever the hybrid was made of.
A “better one”? Let’s test out this theory:
The most famous “mix” is the hybrid car. It runs on a combination of gasoline and batteries, creating less pollution and conserving natural resources – great. Next up are hybrid bikes; less chunky than mountain bikes but tougher than street bikes.
Ever listen to the techno version of the Beatles’ “All the Lonely People”? It’s an awesome music hybrid! Heck, there’s even hybrid democracy, where voters are involved in direct lawmaking (such as voting on propositions). Golf club hybrids are just fun. They combine the advantages of both woods and irons: a larger “sweet spot” while still retaining accuracy and distance.
Ok, I’m convinced. When you cross-breed species, the offspring can become superior to the parents. Do these hybrid vigors exist in the biological world?
The common carrot and corn are actually hybrids. In fact, plants have been cross-pollinated and genetically manipulated for centuries. Gregor Mendel’s first experiments into the science of heredity were performed on pea plants. Many of the peas we eat today are hybrids, and some more exotic veggie varieties include broccoflower (broccoli x cauliflower) limequat (lime x kumquat) and loganberry (blackberry x raspberry).
More often than not, plant hybrids end up being hardier and more nutritious than both parents. A great example is the pomato. A young tomato can be grafted onto a potato plant, resulting in a thicker-skinned, longer-lived crop. The tomato shoot grows above ground and feeds off the below-ground potato roots. Once it’s been picked, cooked and eaten, you get a nice dose of Vitamin C and potassium in one shot.
Let’s delve a little deeper. Dare I enter the world of… animals?
The animal kingdom is a little more sensitive to hybridization. For one, animals are highly evolved organisms. They move around, have complex neural systems and can be quite cute and cuddly. Animals require an extra level of sensitivity, so let’s look at a tried-and-true example no one should have a problem with: the mule.
The mule is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey. A horse has 64 chromosomes, while a donkey has 62. Traditionally, species must have the same number of chromosomes in order to produce fertile offspring. The resulting mule has 63 chromosomes, deeming it infertile. But what it lacks in reproductive potential it makes up in all other areas.
The mule is an intelligent, tough and hard-working animal. In Biblical times, the kings of Israel rode on them. In the Middle Ages, the mule was the chosen ride of the clergy. The mule is also responsible for expanding the American West, and promoting agriculture in the South.
Clearly, the mule is a successful hybrid vigor. So why not mix things up a bit more? Throw a zebra in the blender and you get a zorse or a zedonk. Woah, this is fun! Why stop here?
- Cross a male African lion with a female tiger, and Poof! You get a liger. This hybrid can be traced back as far as the 1790s in Asia. Ligers are most often sterile and giant; they can weigh three times more than a lion and are twice as tall.
- Think a male killer whale would look cute with a dolphin? The folks at Sea Life Park in Hawaii sure did. Kekaimalu the wholphin was born on May 15, 1985! She has a nice set of 66 teeth; a perfect intermediate number between her mama (88) and her pops (44).
- Say “Congratulations” to the scientists in the United Arab Emirates. They were the proud witnesses to the 1995 birth of a baby cama. (Both camel dad and mama llama are doing well.)
- We can’t forget the pumapard! The crossbreeding of a puma and a leopard results in a combination mini-me: a dwarfed version of the parents’ species.
So, what do you say? Are these animals man’s best friend, created to help us and perfect evolution? Or are they freaks of nature, created for our own selfish curiosity?
Well, the liger is an obese cat and the wholphin is a social outcast. The cama inherited the genes for bad temperament, while the pumapard is undersized lunchmeat in the wild. These are all examples of hybrid depression – a crossbreed that produces offspring with a combination of genes less fit than those of the parent.
How can scientists predict when this will happen? The same way we predicted Africanized bees. We can’t.
As a rule of thumb, don’t mess with the animal kingdom unless you are willing to deal with the consequences.
“What is a hybrid kid?” asks a WA user.
Answer: It is a kid who has weird symptoms, like 4 arms, 2 noses and a green toe.
No, thank you, I’ll stick to my mochaccino.