General, Research, Technology

How was a Russian genetics the first in the world to breed a domestic fox?

After 50 years of experimentation, Russian geneticistmanaged to do what the ancient people could not achieve for thousands of years. On a farm near Novosibirsk, scientist Dmitry Belyaev selectively bred hundreds of foxes over several generations in order to ultimately create something that no one had ever seen before: domesticated fox... His goal was to recreate the process, thanks toto which people were able to turn once wild dogs into pets, their loyal friends and assistants. And to understand if this is possible with other species. But how did the Russian scientist manage all this?

The appearance of the domestic fox was a new stage in the evolution of wild animals

How to domesticate a fox?

To achieve his goal, Belyaev selected the mostobedient foxes in his opinion, which he could find on fur farms throughout Russia. Then he bred them over several generations, each time choosing only the most tamed individuals. This is similar to the process that breeders use today to develop new breeds of animals, or how ancient farmers grew the most hardy crops with the highest yields.

The geneticist found that this technique is suitable forfor fox domestication. His experiment began in the late 1950s (!), And by the early 2000s, almost all foxes on the farm showed behavioral changes, writes the BBC. They became practically non-aggressive, reacted adequately to the presence of a person and could even feed from his hands.

Foxes stopped showing signs of aggression almost 50 years after the experiment began

In general, foxes are considered some of the most difficult animals for taming. If someone succeeds in this, then, as a rule, this is an exception to the rule, a maximum of 1-2 foxes. But Belyaev was able to breed a whole new species of domestic foxes. They look more like dogs than wild foxes - wag their tails and revive in the presence of people and do not show any fearfulness or aggressiveness familiar to foxes and other wild animals. In addition, they liked to be petted, they licked the faces of the trainers - all of these behaviors are characteristic of socialized dogs.

And all this was achieved without any preparation or intervention by researchers. The only thing they did was selectively breed those foxes that, in their opinion, are better suited to people.

World's first fox farm

By nature, foxes are truepredators and their diet includes more than 400 species of various animals, including small rodents and even snakes. At the same time, they have many natural enemies, such as badgers, wolves, lynxes and bears. It is noted that domestic foxes have not lost the opportunity to hunt, they just began to live in harmony with humans.

A professor of science and environmental journalism at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon was able to visit the farm and see domestic foxes with her own eyes.

They crave contact with humans at the genetic level, she says, so that the fox was so attached to a person, I have never seen.

Domestic foxes differ not only in behavioralchanges. Over time, these foxes began to look different: their ears became softer, their legs, tails and muzzles were shorter, and their skulls were wider. Even their breeding habits have changed, now they mated out of season and had on average one additional offspring.

Domesticated foxes look more like dogs

Probably, the reasons for this lie in neurologicaland endocrinological changes that occur in foxes as a result of selective breeding, says an article by Lyudmila Trut from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who currently oversees the farm.

This post has reviewed the changescaused by domestication, and domesticated animals have been found to exhibit different levels of certain chemicals in their brains compared to wild foxes. For example, their adrenal glands are not as active, but domestic foxes have higher serotonin levels... Serotonin probably plays a key role in suppressing aggressive behavior.

Can any animals be tamed?

Physical changes in foxes similar tochanges in dogs are probably a by-product of behavioral selection. Their sagging ears could be caused by slowing adrenal glands, and other physical differences could also be related to differences in hormone levels that lead to certain symptoms. Dogs probably went through the same processes for hundreds of generations, after which they gradually adapted to life with us.

Belyaev's experiment indicates thathuman theories of domestication are not only accurate but working; in fact, we have bent the arc of evolution in our favor. Moreover, the process of domestication of new species influences not only their behavior; domestication changes their appearance and changes the rhythms of their lives. So, the matter will not be limited to foxes alone.