Scientists have been trying to understand the changes in genes of animals that turned them from wild to domesticated form for sometime now. A new study reveals that several genes that control development of the nervous system and the brain played a significant role for domestication of rabbits.
Animals have helped humans in farming, hunting, source of food and more. Human have been domesticating various animals such as dogs, cattle, pigs, sheep and more for around 15,000 years.
However, domestication of rabbits is considered fairly new and is believed to have started around 1,400 years back in the monasteries of southern France. Catholic Church announced at that time that young ones of rabbits should not be considered as meat but should regarded as fish and could be consumed during Lent.
The research initially sequenced the whole genome of a domestic rabbit to understand genome assembly of the animal. The scientists then re-sequenced the whole genomes of six diverse breeds of domestic rabbits. They also re-sequenced the genomes of wild rabbits belonging to 14 different regions of southern France as well as the Iberian Peninsula.
"No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species," says Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University. "This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication."
The researchers found that there are certain differences between wild and domesticated rabbits. They highlight that in comparison to domesticated rabbits, the wild rabbits possess a very sturdy flight response, which makes them more alert in their surroundings. The domesticated bunny rabbits are also supposed to be smaller than wild rabbits.
Jeffrey Good, an assistant professor with the University of Montana and a co-author of the study reveals that small changes in genes may have changed some characteristics of the domesticated rabbits rather than a radical change.
The scientists suggest that the research also unveiled the genes of rabbits that may have altered when these animals were domesticated. The group of researchers say that it is an important study as it indicates the involvement of genes for brain and nervous system development.
The research also gives insights with regard to the process of domestication. Anderson says that they believe that a similar process may have occurred in other domesticated animals as well.