Remember the story about the Siberian breeder who bred tame Silver Foxes? Over just a few generations Dmitri Belyaev selected only the most tame foxes to breed, and ended up with a dog-like fox – as tame as you please, thank you. The foxes also had a number of other characteristics that came along with the tameness – similar to the changes between dogs and wolves – droopy ears, and patchy color, etc.

rat A - Photo by Socar MylesWell, this same fellow also did a similar experiment with rats! He developed two colonies; one about as friendly as you can imagine, and the other colony a clan of uber-rodents that are more vicious than those in Willard. The New York Times reported that Frank Albert of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionalry Anthropology has convinced Dr. Belyaev to loan him a few rats from each of his strains to look for the genetic differences between the two closely bred colonies. Working with Svante Paabo of the Institute, they are seeking to sequence the genetic makeup of each colony of rats and identify the genetic differences, hopefully identifying the operative genes for domestication. This is possible since the two colonies are from the same stock only a few generations ago.

Once identified, the genes for domestication could be identified in a wide varietey of mammals, perhaps including humans. Dr. Paabo suggests that humans are a domesticated ape – self domesticated by ostracizing any members who were too violent or would not cooperate. Not everyone agrees that this is useful research, such as Sprague Dawley’s take on the matter.