The genetic basis of animal domestication - a walk in the footsteps of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin used our domestic animals as proof-of-principle for evolution by natural selection. He argued that this is a very similar process to the one that occurs in our domestic animals due to selective breeding. In fact, Darwin himself made breeding experiments to prove this. During the 1980s I got the vision that the development of new molecular genetic methods now will allow us to reveal which genetic changes have been critical for the development of our domestic animals. In this lecture I will present some fascinating mutations that we have discovered and that have contributed to this process. This will include the specific mutation that explains variation in gait among horses. I will also discuss why the colour of our domestic animals changed and why Gandalf’s horse became white. Tameness is the most characteristic feature of all domestic animals and I will also show how we used the rabbit to study the genetic changes that were needed to transform an alert wild rabbit with a very strong flight response into a docile domestic rabbit with a blunted flight response. Charles Darwin started by observing biodiversity in nature during his voyage around the globe on Beagle, formulated his theory of evolution by natural selection and used domestic animals to collect evidence supporting his controversial theory. My scientific journey has gone in the opposite direction. For many years I have used domestic animals as models to understand the genetic basis underlying evolutionary change. But in recent years, thanks to the development of cost-effective methods for whole genome DNA sequencing, I have expanded my research into wild animals. I will therefore end by explaining what we have learned by sequencing the entire genome of all species of Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos.
by Prof. Leif Andersson, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, Sweden