Soviet Scientist Turns Foxes Into Puppies

Aww, aren’t those puppies cute?

Those aren’t dogs. They’re foxes, believe it or not.

In the 1950s, Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev set out to breed a tamer fox that would be easier for their handlers in the Russian fur industry to work with. The foxes included in his breeding experiment were determined by their temperament. To select candidates to breed, Belyaev would stick out his hand in front of foxes, and rank them based on how they reacted. The foxes that snapped or bit at his hand would be disqualified from the experiment, and the foxes that cowered or exhibited curiosity without attacking his hand would be mated together. The best behaved of the selected foxes offspring would be mated again, etc.

The scientists expected a long and tedious experiment with little immediate effects. Much to the their shock, however, noticeable changes in the foxes behavior emerged after just about 10 generations. Not only were the new foxes better behaved, they were also playful, smaller in size, and even had white patches of fur on on large swaths of their bodies. Many wagged their tails like dogs, and some even had blue eyes.

Shocked with the results, Belyaev and his team began to investigate. Testing a hypothesis, they discovered that the new ‘Silver’ foxes, had a significantly lower level of adrenaline than their original counterparts. Adrenaline directly affected the behavior of the foxes, the size the foxes grew, and somehow, the color of the foxes. Through some more testing, the scientists discovered that the level of melanin (a chemical responsible for pigmentation) in the foxes was lower as well, explaining how the foxes emerged with colors never before heard of from their breed.

Scientists theorize that the domestication of wolves to dogs probably began the same way. Generally thought to have developed their affectionate temperament over hundreds or thousands of generations, wolves could have become the dogs we know today quicker than anyone could have imagined.

via Overpill – Soviet Scientist Turns Foxes Into Puppies.

The Recent Future / December 26, 2009 / Nature