Saturday, October 13, 2018

Gene That Turns Wild Animal Into Pets

        The article, The genes that turn wild animals into pets, discusses Russian scientist Dmitri Belyaev's interesting project he conducted with the purpose of understanding the transition from wolves to tamed pets. He believed that the docile behavior and attitude were genetically inherited over time. He began to breed large amounts of silver foxes to see if he could create the same transition of wild wolf to dog. He began by taking a group of the friendliest and calmest silver foxes and mating them together. The most docile offspring of the each generation were bred together several times and eventually the descendants began to seek out human attention and affection. The also began to inherit physical biological features, like floppy ears and curled tails. Belyaev and his team of scientists also bred together the most aggressive of the silver foxes over several generations. After over 40 generations, the project produced two distinct lines of foxes: tamed and aggressive. This project gives a good overview of how dogs were bred to have the tamed and playful attitudes they have.
        In 2010, Guojie Zhang, a professor at the University of Copenhagen decided to sequence the red foxes genomes in order to pinpoint the specific genes that contribute most to the domestication. She used 10 tamed fox, 10 aggressive fox, and 10 neutral attitude foxes for her comparison. They discovered 103 genetic regions that varied widely amongst the different lines of foxes. She says that most of the genes are involved in behavior and immune functions. 45 of the genes overlapped with genes that were already known to affect tameness and aggression in dogs and another 30 genes were linked to the tameness and aggression of the red foxes. The team had an interest in one gene that was known for governing behavior traits, SorCS1. This gene has been found to have connection to human behavioral disorders, such as autism and Alzheimers. The team looked at the foxes response to human interaction and the version of SorCS1 the foxes are carrying. The more docile foxes have a version of the gene that the aggressive foxes didn't carry and some of the aggressive foxes had a rare version of the gene. The findings show the domesticated behaviors in different species may function through the same genetic mechanisms and the behavior can transform greatly in only a few generations of outside pressure. I think it is very interesting to see the affect domestication had on the foxes. It is fascinating that humans can pass on which genes we prefer in animals by how we breed them. I also find it interesting to see that the gene that governs the behavior traits in the foxes is the also connected to human behavioral disorders.

1 comment:

  1. This article is so fascinating to see the affect that domestication can have on animals. The use of this information, though, could have many ethical concerns like all genetic studies. if researchers are able to identify the sequence of the gene that produced that tamed fox and thereby changed it in other foxes and other animals, would they all change their behaviors? Should we as humans do that or does that cross the line and become not ethical? I also find it interesting that the same gene in the foxes related to human social and behavioral disorders. This seems to be the next step into helping and treating human disorders as well.