Monday, May 9, 2011

Taming the Wild

Photo Courtesy of Todd Huffman
I’ve been saving this article for awhile because it’s kind of a long one, but I’m absolutely obsessed with it, so this week seems as good a time as any to share it.

For more than a half century, researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Siberia have been studying the process of animal domestication through research with a large breeding group of red foxes. With each generation of fox kits born at the facility, biologist Dmitry Belyaev and his colleagues have selected the most approachable babies, and these foxes have been bred with other approachable foxes for the next generation. By the mid-1960s—after only a few generations of selective breeding—the experiment began working beyond what Belyaev could have imagined. The new generations of fox kits were not just unafraid of humans, but they were actively seeking to bond with them. Their appearance was also changing, and the new “domesticated” foxes began showing floppier ears, curlier tails and mottled, unique coats of fur.

The experiment is kind of wacky—in a “Big Brother” sort of way—but it also demonstrates how the process of domestication has shaped the lives of many of humankind’s most familiar animals, including dogs, cats, sheep, llamas, goats, pigs, etc. It also proves that domestication takes place on a molecular level.

(And now that I’m done nerdin’ it up for you, here’s the article, "Taming the Wild" by Evan Ratliff.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! :))


Kalen O'Donnell said...

Okay, so somewhat tangential, but reading this post totally made me think of it - there's the series from the eighties and nineties (one trilogy in the eighties and one in the nineties) by an author named David Brin. It's scifi, and hard scifi, centuries in the future, alien races, spaceships, etc. That said, I very much think the premise is something you'd find interesting.

The basic idea is that humans a few centuries in the future used bio-engineering to 'Uplift' (as the process was called) other 'near-sentient' races like chimpanzees, dolphins (and eventually gorillas, whales and dogs) to full sentience, breeding and enhancing them til they had human level intelligence, could communicate and act and think on a human level, etc. There was more to it than that of course, specially once you threw in the aliens, but the way he explored that idea was great, especially in the early books when you saw all the opposing viewpoints, the people who saw the practice/technology as arrogant, blasphemous, barbaric, etc.

LisaAnn said...

How do I not know about these books?? Thank you so much for sharing, Kalen... The trilogies sound right up my alley, especially the grey areas and ethical discussions between supporters and opposers. I'm kind of a genetic purist (most of the time, anyway), so experiments like this always make me think. How far is too far, you know?? :)

Lydia K said...

Behavior and genes. Very cool and very Big Brother. Great post!

K. C. Blake said...

Every time I come in here and see the different pictures, I start saying, "Aw." I love animals. You are so lucky. My one close-up moment with a wild animal was when I dated a guy with a mountain lion and got to pet it. It was so beautiful. I wish I had pictures of that moment.

Anita said...

That is incredible, Lisa. I never would've dreamed how their physical characteristics would change to be more "jovial" to humans...more approachable and less intimidating. Isn't it amazing how we've all so interconnected? Thanks so much for this post. Wow.

Eliza Faith said...

wow. really crazy. Is that a pic of one of them??

brenda said...

The most amazing benefit of reading good blogs, is how much the reader grows. I like this the best when I find other's like yours. This was fascinating. Not something I would have sought out, but it pulled me in. I think 'nerding out' is always a good thing. Great snaps btw.

Sophie Li said...

lol I love it when you nerd! Stop by and grab your goodie! :)

LisaAnn said...

You guys are awesome! How do I get so many great comments??

Lydia K: I'm rereading 1984 for the first time since high school, and it's amazing how many things relate!

K.C: Wow! A mountain lion?? How awesome! I don't have much experience with cats... The two senior zookeepers at the Alaska Zoo take care of the snow leopards and Amur tigers, so one of them would have to die before anyone else was given kitty access! ;)

Anita: I know! The physical differences are what tripped me out the most as well. Who would have thought something like coat coloration had the ability to change so quickly?

Eliza Faith: Yes, isn't it wacky? If you follow the link to the article and click on the "slideshow" button, you'll see tons of even weirder-looking ones!

Brenda: You just made me get emotional! The most amazing benefit for me is being given the opportunity to meet so many other amazing folks out there. You are definitely one of them!

Sophie Li: Oh. My. Goodness. I'm going to make an entire post about you now!! :)

Coral said...

What a fascinating article! I especially liked how they showed that domestication is more genetic than learned from parents

Bluestocking Mum said...

This is incredible Lisa. And the old nature/nurture points. It's awesome in the content but also the way organisms adapt to survive. Darwin's theory rings true.

AVY said...

Always nice to find a blog that's not just about the latest fashion or starving yourself to death. Keep it up, there needs to be more of us.

/ Avy

Pam Asberry said...

You are amazing. Most of the blogs I read are about writing. It's all good, but this is SO refreshing! I am going to tweet it now. I also gave you a blog award today. Please stop by my site to pick it up! THANK YOU!!

the cautionary tale said...

Awesome post!Fascinating!
I have something for you over on my blog!

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