A team of international researchers published the fox genome for the first time, giving new insight into the way modern dogs became domesticated throughout history. Researchers at the Russian Institute of Cytology and Genetics have spent years collecting foxes based on their tameness or aggression in hopes that it would shed light on modern domestication. Once they sequenced the full fox genome, they next turned to Russian foxes to look at their genes.
In the new study, researchers sequenced the genomes of 10 foxes from multiple populations and then compared them to the full fox genome. That showed three populations had 103 different genomic regions, some of which could be responsible for tame or aggressive behavior.
“Finding genomic regions at such resolution was beyond any expectations with our previous tools,” said lead author Anna Kukekova, a researcher at the University of Illinois, according to Science Daily. “Now, for the first time, we could not only pinpoint part of a chromosome which makes foxes more tame or aggressive, but we could identify specific genes responsible for it.”
The team found matches between behavior regions in foxes with regions important in dog domestication. Not only that, but they also found that a gene involved in synapse formation and function — known as SorCS1 — plays a key role in fox behavior.
Those with unique versions of the gene appear to be much calmer towards humans than those with a different version. Though the team states that tameness does not come from one single gene, it definitely helps explain the bigger picture. Such findings are extremely important, and show how full genomes can be used to give new insight into common animals.
“We’ve been waiting for this tool for a very, very long time,” added Kukekova, according to Phys.org. “In our previous work, we tried to identify regions of the fox genome responsible for tame and aggressive behavior, but these studies required a reference genome and all we could use was the dog genome. For us, the fox genome provides a much better resource for genetic analysis of behavior.”
The study was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.