Thousands of years ago, our ancestors began the process of domesticating animals-- transforming large, wild, and aggressive species into the tame and useful breeds we have today. Domestication of both plants and animals continues today, though the processes by which some of our favorite cute, cuddly, loyal breeds have come forth remains shrouded in questions and historical mystery.
More than seven decades ago, an effort to answer some of these questions began in Russia with an attempt to recreate the domestication process of wild canines. The selective breeding of red foxes, a notoriously bad tempered species, produced results that were both rapid and surprising. From a population of snarling and fearful animals arose calm and trusting individuals. Some individuals show traits like spotted coats, floppy ears, and curly tails. All of the new foxes were very cute and some even seemed to attempt human laughter as a way to solicit attention from their keepers.
The results of this traditional selective breeding program, coupled with analysis through modern molecular techniques has given us important insights into the process and mechanisms of domestication. Put another way, we are learning why dogs are so cute and cuddly and bond well to humans.
Lee Dugatkin, Professor and University Scholar in the Department of Biology at The University of Louisville, will share his adventures documenting these fascinating experiments. “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)” co-written with Russian geneticist Lyudmila Trut, has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science “Excellence in Science Books” award. Dr. Dugatkin’s presentation is sure to be of interest to people of all ages, including those who love science, history, a good story, and puppies!