Fox: An experiment to study the evolution of the brain



Since the late 1950s, an experiment on domestication of the silver fox has been conducted at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia. The protocol has already enabled the collection of a large amount of information on the morphological development of animals under the influence of human selection. Now biologists were interested in its effects on the brain. American and Russian researchers analyzed the brain structures of foxes of several lineages: an obedient, aggressive, and control group that did not pass the selection.

Unexpected results that intrigue scientists

RESEARCH. Find more on the website Research article “What is the impact of domestication on the brain?“, Edwyn Guérineau.

Surprisingly, foxes in obedient or aggressive groups show similar changes in the brain. Would choosing the opposite behavior lead to the same adjustments? Moreover, although it is known that the relative brain volume is smaller in native species than in their wild ancestors, this is not what scientists have noticed. It would even increase. These results surprise researchers and may provide a more detailed understanding of the processes involved in domestication.

Understanding how the wolf became a dog

Further work will be needed to perfect our knowledge of this history of evolution. In the meantime, it is possible that these observations are related to the experimental conditions. The foxes, which originally came from fur farming, were no longer completely wild until they were separated into separate vines. But the Novosibirsk experience today represents the best model for understanding how the wolf became a dog more than 30,000 years ago.

Written by Edwyn Guérineau



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