Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Genetic Basis for Rabbit Domestication Revealed

Published: Friday, August 29, 2014
Last Updated: Friday, August 29, 2014
Bookmark and Share
Research presents key findings in the DNA make-up of the common mammal’s brain and nervous system, which determines how wild rabbits were genetically transformed to domestic rabbits.

TGAC’s Director of Science Federica Di Palma, with an international team of scientists, leads ground-breaking study examining the domestication of rabbits. The study, published in Science, also predicts a similar diversity of gene variants that occur in humans and triggers our personality traits.

The new study, done in collaboration with scientists from TGAC (UK), The Broad Institute (US) and Uppsala University (Sweden), in addition to other international scientists in the rabbit research community, have made a breakthrough in their field by comparing wild and domestic rabbits. The research paper reports that many gene developments were involved in the domestication of rabbits, particularly controlling the improvement of the brain and the nervous system.

The domestication of animals and plants, a prerequisite for the development of agriculture, is one of the most import technological revolutions during history of mankind. However, there has been little knowledge of what genetic changes were required to transform a wild animal into a domesticated form. No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species, allowing the researchers to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication.

Federica Di Palma, co-first author and Director of Science at TGAC, said: “The rabbit is a model for very recent domestication, and interestingly, we found that changes in many of the domestic rabbit’s genes play a role and were also present in the wild ancestor. We also found that these variations occur in the non-coding DNA part of the genome, emphasising the regulatory nature of the genetic basis underlying domestication in rabbits.”

The scientists were baffled by the clearly heightened changes involved in the development of the brain and the nervous system among the genes particularly targeted during domestication, alluding to the drastic changes in behaviour between wild and domestic rabbits. “The results we have are very clear, the difference between a wild and a tame rabbit is not which genes they carry, but how the expression of their genes is regulated,” said Leif Andersson, co-author and Head of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology at Uppsala University.

Wild rabbits have very strong reactions due to them being hunted by other species and humans, and therefore, must be very alert to survive in the wild. Darwin used domestic animals as a proof-of-principle that it is possible to change the phenotype by selection. The current study has now been able to reveal the genetic basis for the remarkable change in behaviour, giving important new insights about the domestication process.

“Our study shows that the wild rabbit is a highly polymorphic species that carries rare gene variants that were favourable during domestication, and the accumulation of many small changes led to the evolution of the domestic rabbit in which the strong flight response had been inhibited. We predict that a similar process has occurred in other domestic animals and there will not be specific genes that are critical for domestication. It is very likely that a similar diversity of gene variants affecting the brain and the nervous system occurs in the human population and underlies differences in personality and behaviour, for instance, response to fear,” said Leif.

The scientists first sequenced the entire genome of one domestic rabbit to develop a reference genome assembly. They then re-sequenced the entire genome of domestic rabbits, representing six different breeds, and the wild rabbits genomes were sampled at 14 different places across the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. The rabbit is an outstanding model for genetic studies of domestication. The domestication of rabbits is relatively recent; and the region is still densely populated with wild rabbits.

Rabbit domestication has primarily occurred by altering the frequencies of gene variants that were already present in the wild ancestor. The new research shows that domestication has primarily involved many minor gene changes and few drastic gene changes. There were very few examples where a gene variant common in domestic rabbits had completely replaced the gene variant present in wild rabbits; it was rather the shifts in frequencies of those variants that were favoured in domestic rabbits. “An interesting consequence of this is that if you release domestic rabbits into the wild, there is an opportunity for back selection of those genes that have been altered during domestication because the ‘wild-type’ variant has rarely been completely lost. In fact, this is what we plan to study next,” said Leif.

Domestication of animals started as early as 9,000 to 15,000 years ago and initially involved dogs, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The rabbit was domesticated much later, about 1,400 years ago, at monasteries in southern France. It has been claimed that rabbits were domesticated because the Catholic Church had declared that young rabbit was not considered meat but fish and could, therefore, be eaten during lent. When domestication occurred, the wild ancestor, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), was only recorded on the Iberian Peninsula and in southern France.

The paper, titled: “Rabbit genome analysis reveals a polygenic basis for phenotypic change during domestication” is published in Science.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

New Big Data Era Pushes Training Need For Bioinformatics In Life Sciences
The GOBLET international consortium aims to share bioinformatics training expertise, experience, and resources.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
New Software Helps Researchers Solve Genomic 'Jigsaw Puzzle'
Scientists from The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) present a configurable workflow management system for the complex task of de novo genome assembly.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
TGAC In The Spotlight At Largest Global Supercomputing Conference
TGAC attended the annual SC14 conference in New Orleans, US, 16-21 November, the largest and most significant meeting for supercomputing and HPC professionals worldwide.
Monday, December 01, 2014
TGAC Explores The Role Of Open Science In Human Genomics
Dr Manuel Corpas, Project Leader at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) was invited to speak at DNAdigest’s symposium, “Open Science in human genomics research – challenges and inspirations”.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
TGAC Leads Research To Help Identify Animal-To-Human Transmitted Diseases
The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will lead research into the development of bioinformatics to support the identification and characterisation of viruses through metagenomics.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Developing A Roadmap For The Training Of Clinicians In Bioinformatics
The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) recently hosted a ‘Bioinformatics for Clinicians’ workshop to create a science roadmap for the development of bioinformatics training for a clinical audience.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Scientific News
Genes That Protect African Children From Developing Malaria Identified
Variations in DNA at a specific location on the genome that protect African children from developing severe malaria, in some cases nearly halving a child’s chance of developing the life-threatening disease, have been identified in the largest genetic association study of malaria to date.
Researchers Disguise Drugs As Platelets to Target Cancer
Researchers have for the first time developed a technique that coats anticancer drugs in membranes made from a patient’s own platelets.
Dormant Viral Genes May Awaken to Cause ALS
NIH human and mouse study may open an unexplored path for finding treatments.
Scientists Create World’s Largest Catalog of Human Genomic Variation
An international team of scientists from the 1000 Genomes Project Consortium has created the world’s largest catalog of genomic differences among humans, providing researchers with powerful clues to help them establish why some people are susceptible to various diseases.
Five Genetic Regions Implicated In Cystic Fibrosis Severity
An international consortium of researchers conducted the largest-ever CF genome-wide analysis to find new therapeutic targets.
Greater Understanding Of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
A new genetic study of over 200,000 women reveals the underlying mechanisms of polycystic ovary syndrome, as well as potential interventions.
New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
A Fundamental Protection Mechanism Against Formalin In Mammals is Revealed
Formaldehyde, or formalin, is well known to all of us as a common chemical used in many industrial processes and also as a preservative, remarkably we also produce formaldehyde in our bodies.
A New Single-Molecule Tool to Observe Enzymes at Work
A team of scientists at the University of Washington and the biotechnology company Illumina have created an innovative tool to directly detect the delicate, single-molecule interactions between DNA and enzymatic proteins.
Genetic Adaptations to Diet and Climate
Researchers found genetic variations in the Inuit of Greenland that reflect adaptations to their specific diet and climate.
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos