Rabbit Genes Show How Wild Animals Become Tame

Rabbit Genes Show How Wild Animals Become Tame

Scientists find wild and domesticated rabbits aren't as genetically different as we thought.

Humans have been domesticating animals since as early as 15,000 years ago, and while we can observe the differences domestication makes, the underlying genetic changes are poorly understood. A dog is clearly different from a wolf, but how the wolf's genome changed on the way to becoming shih tzus, corgis and pugs is difficult to study. Rabbits, which were first domesticated just 1,400 years ago in monasteries in France, make an ideal subject for studying the genetic transformation from wild to tame. The domestic rabbit's ancestor, the wild European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, still exists in dense populations in Europe. Scientists compared the genomes of wild rabbits to six different breeds of domestic rabbit. The study, published August 28 in the journal Science, found that wild and tame rabbits didn't carry different genes, but rather different frequencies of the same genes.

"Our data shows that domestication primarily involved small changes in many genes and not drastic changes in a few genes," says co-senior study author Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Director of Director of Vertebrate Genome Biology at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, professor at Uppsala University and Co-Director of Science for Life Laboratory. Complete genome sequences were completed for wild rabbits at 14 different places in Europe and six domestic breeds. The study observed few examples where a domestic gene variant has completely replaced the wild variant, and no instances where a gene had been completely inactivated. Domesticated rabbits instead had different numbers of genes that were already present in the wild population. The study found that the most important changes were in the genes affect the development of the brain and nervous system. Changes in these genes are responsible for the difference in personality and behavior between wild and tame rabbits. Wild rabbits are quick to bolt, a flight response that helps them avoid predators like hawks, eagles, and foxes. Domestic rabbits have a much weaker flight response, a fact that Charles Darwin used in On the Origin of Species as an example of changing an organism's traits by selection.

The study concludes that instead of a few key "domestication" genes, the genetic process for taming wild animals involved many small changes in the genome. Wild rabbits have many gene variants, and the process of domestication increased the frequency of the gene variants that produced desirable characteristics, like size, color, and a suppressed flight response.

Having had a pet rabbit fall asleep in my lap while browsing the internet, I can confirm, at least anecdotally, that tame rabbits have very different personalities than wild. Have you ever had a pet rabbit?

Source: Science

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I can definitely agree, had two pet rabbits. One of them, Socks (one white paw, looked like he was wearing a sock), was absolutely fearless. He'd follow me around the house, run around my feet. Big family dinner gathering, or sister's dog wants to sniff play? He just ignores them and explores the house, running past everyone's legs.

He also lived to be like 12 years old.

I should have cloned and bred him and made an army of super rabbits.

ThriKreen:
I can definitely agree, had two pet rabbits. One of them, Socks (one white paw, looked like he was wearing a sock), was absolutely fearless. He'd follow me around the house, run around my feet. Big family dinner gathering, or sister's dog wants to sniff play? He just ignores them and explores the house, running past everyone's legs.

He also lived to be like 12 years old.

I should have cloned and bred him and made an army of super rabbits.

I like Rabbits but one thing I prefer with cats is their tendency to poop in a place out of the way of my bum or feet (aka sofa/floor)

Do rabbit owners just kind of learn to live with the occasional dry pellet lying around or have I just missed something?

This is fascinating. I am intrigued as to what else we might learn.

Nikolaz72:

ThriKreen:
I can definitely agree, had two pet rabbits. One of them, Socks (one white paw, looked like he was wearing a sock), was absolutely fearless. He'd follow me around the house, run around my feet. Big family dinner gathering, or sister's dog wants to sniff play? He just ignores them and explores the house, running past everyone's legs.

He also lived to be like 12 years old.

I should have cloned and bred him and made an army of super rabbits.

I like Rabbits but one thing I prefer with cats is their tendency to poop in a place out of the way of my bum or feet (aka sofa/floor)

Do rabbit owners just kind of learn to live with the occasional dry pellet lying around or have I just missed something?

I've met some rabbits that are shockingly good about keeping all their business in their litter box, but most rabbit owners I know just get used having dry pellets randomly around, and usually a broom and dustpan on every level of the house. At least the pellets are dry!

Nikolaz72:

ThriKreen:
I can definitely agree, had two pet rabbits. One of them, Socks (one white paw, looked like he was wearing a sock), was absolutely fearless. He'd follow me around the house, run around my feet. Big family dinner gathering, or sister's dog wants to sniff play? He just ignores them and explores the house, running past everyone's legs.

He also lived to be like 12 years old.

I should have cloned and bred him and made an army of super rabbits.

I like Rabbits but one thing I prefer with cats is their tendency to poop in a place out of the way of my bum or feet (aka sofa/floor)

Do rabbit owners just kind of learn to live with the occasional dry pellet lying around or have I just missed something?

I thought they could be trained, my family had a bunch of rabbits for food (i know we're terrible people), but we had a couple as pets, and they could be trained to only poop on their house. But yeah theres always the occasional dry pellets, specially when they are nervous they just poop and poop.
I also trained my dog to poop and pee in the yard, but everytime i get home she just starts peeing everywhere.

Ahem...

Anyway, I've no trouble believing a study like this. Uhh, Siberian fox study, anyone? Throw down a few thousand dollars and you can be the proud owner of a home-safe adorable fox.

Are those french rabbits from 14.000 years ago, or 1.400 years ago?
Because 1.4000 years looks very odd as a number.

Fascinating nonetheless.

Piorn:
Are those french rabbits from 14.000 years ago, or 1.400 years ago?
Because 1.4000 years looks very odd as a number.

Fascinating nonetheless.

Damn, beat me to it. xP

The mention of French monasteries makes me wanna say 1,400 years, since I doubt that France was a thing 14,000 years ago.

I always thought domesticated animals simply learned that some humans were a reliable source of food and shelter. Though I guess it makes sense that it took the ones with more "suitable" genes and/or personality to shift from wild to domesticated.

Piorn:
Are those french rabbits from 14.000 years ago, or 1.400 years ago?
Because 1.4000 years looks very odd as a number.

Since they're talking about European rabbits, my assumption is that the number is in European format. 1,4000 therefore means 1.4 year. Doesn't sound completely right to me, but it's science and what do I know about rabbits anyway.

MarlaDesat:
Have you ever had a pet rabbit?

Yes. When i was a kid we used to have our own form of "Treehouse" except it was on the ground and basically a above ground basement converted into our hangout. We even had electricity until one faithful storm destroyed the wires. Anyway, we had a rabbit that we would keep there. when we werent around it was left in there locked up, whne we were we would play with it and of course let it run around. this of course only meant summer, since during iwnter the rabbit refused to leave the house. it owuld try to go out, touch the snow and turn back, didnt like the cold i assume. Over the ~2 years that we had it, i never even once saw it bolt, it was always hopping around slowly and we eventually learned to just let it run around the yard since it wasnt running away. we usually had one of us follow it so it wouldnt hop into the street or something. evnetually we picked the wrong guy for the job and the rabbit was gone. not killed as far as we know, just dissapeared after the guy failed to properly follow him around the corner. we never ofund it. it was pretty domesticated though, did not fear humans at all.

Sgt. Sykes:

Piorn:
Are those french rabbits from 14.000 years ago, or 1.400 years ago?
Because 1.4000 years looks very odd as a number.

Since they're talking about European rabbits, my assumption is that the number is in European format. 1,4000 therefore means 1.4 year. Doesn't sound completely right to me, but it's science and what do I know about rabbits anyway.

This website is US based and thus still use the inproper comma as thousand seperator, so this is probably 1400 yars just with accidental 0 at the end. as that would make sense - monasteries in France around 600 years AC.

The instances of single genes being the culprit for anything are minuscule. It's not surprise it involved gene frequency variation in a lot of genes rather new genes in one or a few instances. I think a more fascinating study would honestly involved studying genes in Broccoli, Kale, and Cabbage (all are descendants of the same wild cabbage). But that is my opinion. Also... why not dogs, since they are the most common instance of domesticated variation out there.

Strazdas:

Sgt. Sykes:

Piorn:
Are those french rabbits from 14.000 years ago, or 1.400 years ago?
Because 1.4000 years looks very odd as a number.

Since they're talking about European rabbits, my assumption is that the number is in European format. 1,4000 therefore means 1.4 year. Doesn't sound completely right to me, but it's science and what do I know about rabbits anyway.

This website is US based and thus still use the inproper comma as thousand seperator, so this is probably 1400 yars just with accidental 0 at the end. as that would make sense - monasteries in France around 600 years AC.

Well, the issue is that there are literally too many zeroes, no matter how you separate it. France was not a place 14,000 years ago. And they clearly didn't mean 1.4 years ago. They meant 1,400 years ago. Interestingly, most of the time a lot of pepple leave the comma out of it if it's less than 10,000. Also, we aren't using "improper" anything, that is the vernacular here in the US.

All our bunny would do when left to roam free is find the nearest wire and gnaw on it.

Baresark:
I think a more fascinating study would honestly involved studying genes in Broccoli, Kale, and Cabbage (all are descendants of the same wild cabbage).

And Romanesco, that shit looks completely alien.

Nikolaz72:

I like Rabbits but one thing I prefer with cats is their tendency to poop in a place out of the way of my bum or feet (aka sofa/floor)

Do rabbit owners just kind of learn to live with the occasional dry pellet lying around or have I just missed something?

Actually Socks was pretty well potty trained. He rarely pooped when we let him out to run around the house for some exercise. I think the key was to have a cardboard tray (i.e. from a case of soda cans) and place some of his poop there, so he associates that location as his washroom.

When he was out, his two favourite spots was hiding under the sofa or parking his butt in front of a vent (I guess he liked the breeze).

At the risk of sounding like a know it all, I thought this would have been fairly obvious, still it's the goal of every scientist to confirm their theories.

Large changes to an organisms genetic make up usually takes a long time to occur, where as there are slight differences between all individuals of the same species. As was said in the article, you merely breed the rabbits with the right temperament/characteristics to make them the more common traits. Domesticated rabbits don't have sabre fangs or any thing, they're just more docile and comfortable around humans.

Now that we found these genes, the next step is actually modifying them so we can "tame" wild animals.

Imagine lions, and tigers and bears as pets? Oh my.

Baresark:
The instances of single genes being the culprit for anything are minuscule. It's not surprise it involved gene frequency variation in a lot of genes rather new genes in one or a few instances. I think a more fascinating study would honestly involved studying genes in Broccoli, Kale, and Cabbage (all are descendants of the same wild cabbage). But that is my opinion. Also... why not dogs, since they are the most common instance of domesticated variation out there.

Strazdas:

Sgt. Sykes:
Since they're talking about European rabbits, my assumption is that the number is in European format. 1,4000 therefore means 1.4 year. Doesn't sound completely right to me, but it's science and what do I know about rabbits anyway.

This website is US based and thus still use the inproper comma as thousand seperator, so this is probably 1400 yars just with accidental 0 at the end. as that would make sense - monasteries in France around 600 years AC.

Well, the issue is that there are literally too many zeroes, no matter how you separate it. France was not a place 14,000 years ago. And they clearly didn't mean 1.4 years ago. They meant 1,400 years ago. Interestingly, most of the time a lot of pepple leave the comma out of it if it's less than 10,000. Also, we aren't using "improper" anything, that is the vernacular here in the US.

Yep, 1,400 years ago. Typo.

For those interested in similar studies, look up the Russian Fox Experiment. The short version is that a Russian fur farm for silver foxes wanted to tame the animals so they can be more easily handled. They bred the friendliest foxes, and after 40 generations not only were the foxes more comfortable with human handling, but they also showed other traits like white fur, floppy ears (floppy ears being more a domestic dog trait. No wild canid has floppy ears), a more playful/infant-like personality, and waggy tails. It's a very interesting thing, and these foxes have not only been looked at for the changes in the domestication process, but also have been kept as pets (as a splotchy grey/white fox isn't very useful for fur).

My rabbit, Dovakhiin, is a wild sort, he loves running around when I let him out of his cage. He's well house trained and he absolutely loves Shreddies. I know they're not great for him but he loves them so much I can't help but treat him to them every now and again. He'll do anything to get one. The only reason why I have to keep him in the cage is because he chews up everything that's wood.

Slowly we approach the point where we can genetically engineer domestic otters. And it will be awesome.

 

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