Friday, May 27, 2016

Domestication: Artificial or Natural Selection?

Hello and welcome back to my blog! Without further ado, here are the topics of today: Domestication and experimental biology.

Domestication is widely believed to be a result of artificial selection, but is domestication actually a result of it? The professor in my dog cognition course through Duke University thinks it is a result of natural selection instead. Through a theory he calls "Survival of the Friendliest", he believes that as humans began to settle down, "friendliness" in wolves -- or more specifically, aggression towards humans being replaced by interest in them -- started to have benefits, such as free food from the garbage of humans. Eventually, the humans took in these wolves as pets, creating ... dogs!

Now, since this is a theory involving something that happened thousands of years ago, there's no way to test and prove/disprove it, right? Wrong. Enter Dmitri Belyaev's famous silver fox experiment.In 1958,Belyaev asked his assistant Lyudmila Trut to go to Soviet fur farms to gather the tamest silver foxes she could find. A quick note: silver foxes had NOT been domesticated prior to Belyaev and Trut's experiment.  The ~30 male foxes and ~100 vixens (female foxes) that Trut gathered formed the base of the experiment that has lasted until this day. 

If Belyaev and Trut allowed the foxes to freely interbreed, there wouldn't be an experiment, would there? So Belyaev and Trut took the friendliest foxes and interbred them, allowing the others to freely interbreed. The freely interbreeding foxes formed the control group of the experiment, while the friendly foxes formed the experimental group. After ~30-35 generations, there were about 100 friendly foxes. As a result of this domestication, however, there were a few unintended results, including: piebald (multishaded) coats, cranium feminization(skull becoming narrower in males), bone gracialization(thinner bones), curled tails, star mutation (a white pattern on the chest), increased litter size(more puppies), floppy ears, whining, and  loss of "musky fox smell".

Belyaev and Trut's experiment inspired me to do something similar. I wanted to do something revolutionary with domestication. But what to domesticate... I knew I wanted to do a wild feline of some sort, but what to choose? Panthers, tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, lynxes, ocelots, leopards, caracals, servals, jaguarundis, kodkods, margays, pumas, bobcats, cougars, or oncillas? So many to choose from! I think I might settle for a small cat(any one listed above EXCEPT lion, panther, tiger, leopard, cheetah, and jaguar), but I just don't know yet. Feel free to tell me about your suggestions and reasons for the suggestions in the comments!

Thank you for visiting School Stories (Where School Is ALWAYS In Session!) today, and I hope to see you again soon!

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