According to a new study published in the August 30 issue of Science by a group of researchers at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana, wild rabbits became domesticated by way of natural gene adaptation. The investigative team reported that this domestication was possible due to the presences of specific genes that change the development of the animal’s brain and the entire nervous system.
Various online sources indicate that this “domestication of animals” began approximately 9,000 to 15,000 years back and included such animals as cattle, dogs, goats, pigs and sheep. This was actually a significant part of both owning and cultivating land and certainly an important technological advance of that time.
Wild rabbits were originally tamed in the monasteries of Southern France about 1,400 years ago. This came to be because the Catholic Church proclaimed that young rabbits couldn’t be considered meat. Hence–other than fish– they were the only acceptable protein source during Lent.
For this specific project, the group sequenced the genome of a domestic rabbit in order to identify the genome assembly. They next took the entire genome traits of six breeds of domestic rabbits and wild rabbits. The rabbits came from 14 different locations throughout Southern France and the Iberian Peninsula.
Additional research revealed that prior to wild rabbits becoming domesticated; the animals had been polymorphic and had the ability to take “different forms in adulthood.” Unsurprisingly, wild rabbits also had a much stronger flight response when threatened by such predators as eagles, foxes, hawks and humans. Most importantly, the scientists determined which genes had been changed during the wild rabbits’ domestication process.
Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University concluded: “No previous study on animal domestication has involved such a careful examination of genetic variation in the wild ancestral species. This allowed us to pinpoint the genetic changes that have occurred during rabbit domestication.”