"No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species," said Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University. "This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication." In contrast to domestic rabbits, wild rabbits have a very strong flight response because they are hunted by eagles, hawks, foxes and humans and therefore must be very alert and reactive to survive in the wild.
In fact, Charles Darwin wrote in "On the Origin of Species" that "no animal is more difficult to tame than the young of the wild rabbit; scarcely any animal is tamer than the young of the tame rabbit." Darwin used domestic animals as a proof-of-principle that it is possible to change phenotypes by selection.
The scientists involved in the current study have now been able to reveal the genetic basis for this remarkable change in behavior, and the study has given important new insights about the domestication process.
The study also revealed which genes have been altered during domestication. The researchers were struck by the strong enrichment of genes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system, which are among the genes particularly targeted during domestication.
The study also shows that the wild rabbit is a highly polymorphic species that carries gene variants that were favorable during domestication, and that the accumulation of many small changes led to the inhibition of the strong flight response one of the most prominent phenotypic changes in the evolution of the domestic rabbit.
"We predict that a similar process has occurred in other do
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The University of Montana