Foxes open a window to the nature of domestication. Russian scientists, in about 1960, got foxes that were bred in farms and reproduced them selectively on the criterion not of their fur but their friendliness towards humans. The result was a kind of fox that pleased the human companion as a domestic dog. Their story is described in a book, whose author Ludmila N. Truut is one of the scientists who did the experiment.
Domesticated foxes may resemble pets, but they are nocturnal, they do not easily learn to be clean and can not live in a home with humans, says Anna Koukekova, of the University of Illinois, who is studying the genetics of foxes. It is, however, a source of genetic studies aimed at isolating genes that are related to domestication, especially dogs. Fox belongs to the Canidian family, such as wolves, dogs, and extinct wolves that are supposed to have evolved in dogs.
Dr. Koukekova and a team of scientists from the US, Russia and China found the base sequences in the red fox genome and then compared three types of red fox that had been bred in farms and were selected for their activity and aggression their.
Scientists identified 103 areas of DNA that appeared to be under selective pressure on reproduction, in which only the most friendly puppies were allowed to mate. Also, a gene was found, which seemed to be responsible for virtue. The gene called SorCS1 regulates the function of connections between brain cells, something that makes sense for a gene involved in social behavior.
Other genes of interest are those associated with human diseases that affect behavior, such as autism. However, determining how these genes are related to taming is an extremely complicated case, said Dr. Koukekova. “The domesticated dog is chosen for different things. The fox is only chosen for its friendliness. ”
Princeton University’s Bridget Bowden recently reported that genes associated with Williams -Biouren’s syndrome in humans may be related to why dogs are so friendly, noting that research on genes that affect behavior is very difficult. Dr. Koukekova said the genes detected in foxes are interesting clues. “We can not be 100% confident that they are involved in the evolution of behavior,” but the first step is to identify these genes, and current research suggests that domesticated foxes are very useful animals.