Scientists have found that only a few subtle genetic changes are needed to turn wild rabbits into pet bunnies. The research found that domestic rabbits are less afraid of humans due to a few minor genetic alterations.
Nature World News reports that researchers at the Uppsala University were responsible for the research. The study shows that the animal was tamed rather recently, just 1,400 years ago in monasteries in southern France. This means the research is interesting in that it deals with genetic changes over a short period of time in an animal. For the research, the scientists compared the genome of wild rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus with that of tamed pet bunnies. The animals in the study hailed from France and Spain.
Leif Andersson at Uppsala University said in the Nature World News report:
“Wild and domestic rabbits do not differ so much in actual protein sequences, but in how gene and protein expression is regulated. No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species. This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication.”
Auto World News notes that in the study researchers have observed that wild rabbits have a strong flight response, unlike domestic rabbits, making them very reactive and alert to survive in the wild. Small changes in many genes instead of drastic ones in a few caused the domestication, according to the release.
The press release by researchers also notes that the team observed very few examples where a gene variant common in domestic rabbits had completely replaced the gene variant present in wild rabbits; it was rather shifts in frequencies of those variants that were favored in domestic rabbits. The study shows that the wild rabbit is a highly polymorphic species that carries gene variants favorable during domestication, meaning the rabbit was a perfect animal for domestication purposes.
The researchers predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and that we will not find a few specific “domestication genes” that were critical for domestication. In other words, the researchers believe that most domesticated animals will be found to have slight genetic changes or protein expression regulation instead of a complex change in genome. It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and that contributes to differences in personality and behavior, says Leif Andersson.
What do you think of the research? Did you expect domesticated rabbits to have drastically different genetic makeup than their wild counterparts?