The Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev set up a selective breeding program in 1959 to reproduce the wolf-to-dog domestication process – this time with foxes.
The experiment took place at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, where it continues. There, researchers are assigned to a population of various types based on their behavior towards experimenters. Those who were considered the friendliest and toughest were together, while the most aggressive ones were bred separately. The researchers observed behavioral and physiological changes in the later generations of the group, including the search for human attention, sniffing and licking of humans, shorter legs, tail, snout, and upper jaw and other dog-like features.
Well, as part of a recent G3: Genes | Genome | Genetics, researchers believe that they have undergone a cognitive mechanism for such behavioral changes – how do these animals respond to stress?
"Previous studies have shown that ACTH [a stress response-driving hormone] levels in the anterior pituitary do not differ between tame and aggressive fox trunks," says study author Anna Kukekova. "This means that the differential expression of the ACTH gene for ACTH in the blood can cause tame foxes."
With 12 foxes from the breeding program of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, researchers compared gene activity in their anterior pituitary squirrel. These canines belonged to an "elite" group – six of which were bred to the tame ones, six of which were bred as the most aggressive.