domesticated silver fox

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pages: 473 words: 130,141

The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution by Richard Wrangham

agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, Defenestration of Prague, domesticated silver fox, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, impulse control, income inequality, meta-analysis, out of africa, phenotype, Ronald Reagan, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Steven Pinker, twin studies, ultimatum game

Intellectually honest genetics research did not become permissible until several years after Stalin died, in 1953.7 In 1958, Belyaev joined the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Department of the Soviet Academy of Sciences at Novosibirsk. There he was able to keep hundreds of foxes and other animals in captivity and finally to test an idea he had long been drawn to.8 In general, Belyaev was interested in the domestication syndrome, and in particular, in the breeding rate of captive silver foxes, a subspecies of red fox that had been brought over from Prince Edward Island, Canada, in the 1920s. Silver foxes produce an unusual fur color that is a Siberian and worldwide favorite. By the time Belyaev began his research, families in thousands of small rural farms all over the Siberian countryside had been keeping silver foxes for up to eighty fox generations.

Elite foxes not only wagged their tails, they even whimpered to attract attention, and they approached the experimenters to sniff and lick them. According to Belyaev’s collaborator Lyudmila Trut, by the tenth generation these elite foxes made up 18 percent of the pups; by the twentieth, 35 percent; and by the thirtieth to thirty-fifth generations, 70 to 80 percent. Within a few years, the American Kennel Club applied to import domesticated silver foxes as pets.13 Impressive as the rate of change in tameness was, what really caught Belyaev’s attention was the appearance of other traits that had not been targeted by the experimenters. By 1969, only ten years after selective breeding began, “a peculiar piebald spotting was first observed in a male fox.”14 In unselected foxes the “piebald spotting,” which Belyaev called a “star mutation,” was rare, but in the selected foxes it was relatively common, including being found “between the ears”—in other words, this was the forehead “blaze” of white often found on horses, or similar white patches commonly seen on cows, dogs, cats, and many other domesticated animals.

By 1969, only ten years after selective breeding began, “a peculiar piebald spotting was first observed in a male fox.”14 In unselected foxes the “piebald spotting,” which Belyaev called a “star mutation,” was rare, but in the selected foxes it was relatively common, including being found “between the ears”—in other words, this was the forehead “blaze” of white often found on horses, or similar white patches commonly seen on cows, dogs, cats, and many other domesticated animals. The star mutation had never before been described in silver foxes, but it soon appeared in forty-eight separate families of foxes at the experimental farm. These represented only a minority of the families, but, in keeping with Belyaev’s hypothesis, thirty-five of them included foxes “remarkable in their high degree of tameness.”


Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity by Brian Hare, Vanessa Woods

Cass Sunstein, cognitive bias, desegregation, domesticated silver fox, Donald Trump, drone strike, income inequality, Jane Jacobs, Law of Accelerating Returns, meta-analysis, microbiome, Milgram experiment, Nelson Mandela, New Urbanism, nuclear winter, out of africa, phenotype, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Florida, Ronald Reagan, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), self-driving car, smart cities, social intelligence, Stanford marshmallow experiment, stem cell, Steven Pinker, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, theory of mind, Tim Cook: Apple, trade route, white flight, zero-sum game

Xiong, “Red Fox Genome Assembly Identifies Genomic Regions Associated with Tame and Aggressive Behaviours,” Evolution 2, 1479 (2018). 15. E. Shuldiner, I. J. Koch, R. Y. Kartzinel, A. Hogan, L. Brubaker, S. Wanser, D. Stahler, C. D. Wynne, E. A. Ostrander, J. S. Sinsheimer, “Structural Variants in Genes Associated with Human Williams-Beuren Syndrome Underlie Stereotypical Hypersociability in Domestic Dogs,” Science Advances 3 (2017). 16. L. A. Dugatkin, “The Silver Fox Domestication Experiment,” Evolution: Education and Outreach 11, 16 (2018), published online Epub2018/12/07, 10:1186/s12052-018-0090-x. 17. B. Agnvall, J. Bélteky, R. Katajamaa, P. Jensen, “Is Evolution of Domestication Driven by Tameness? A Selective Review with Focus on Chickens,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2017). 18.

Hansen Wheat, W. van der Bijl, H. Temrin, “Dogs, but Not Wolves, Lose Their Sensitivity Toward Novelty with Age,” Frontiers in Psychology 10, e2001–e2001 (2019). 15. Brian Hare, Vanessa Woods, The Genius of Dogs (Oneworld Publications, 2013). 16. D. Belyaev, I. Plyusnina, L. Trut, “Domestication in the Silver Fox (Vulpes fulvus Desm): Changes in Physiological Boundaries of the Sensitive Period of Primary Socialization,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 13, 359–70 (1985). 17. Lyudmila Trut, “Early Canid Domestication: The Farm-Fox Experiment; Foxes Bred for Tamability in a 40-year Experiment Exhibit Remarkable Transformations That Suggest an Interplay Between Behavioral Genetics and Development,” American Scientist 87, 160–69 (1999). 18.


pages: 1,261 words: 294,715

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky

autonomous vehicles, Bernie Madoff, biofilm, blood diamonds, British Empire, Broken windows theory, Brownian motion, car-free, clean water, cognitive dissonance, corporate personhood, corporate social responsibility, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, desegregation, different worldview, domesticated silver fox, double helix, Drosophila, Edward Snowden, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, Flynn Effect, framing effect, fudge factor, George Santayana, global pandemic, hiring and firing, illegal immigration, impulse control, income inequality, John von Neumann, Loma Prieta earthquake, long peace, longitudinal study, loss aversion, Mahatma Gandhi, meta-analysis, microaggression, Mohammed Bouazizi, Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay, mouse model, mutually assured destruction, Nelson Mandela, Network effects, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, placebo effect, publication bias, RAND corporation, risk tolerance, Rosa Parks, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), self-driving car, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, Stanford marshmallow experiment, Stanford prison experiment, stem cell, Steven Pinker, strikebreaker, theory of mind, Tragedy of the Commons, transatlantic slave trade, traveling salesman, trickle-down economics, twin studies, ultimatum game, Walter Mischel, wikimedia commons, zero-sum game

Implicit in this is stasis, a conservatism about evolutionary change—it takes very unique macro changes during times of very unique challenge to luck out. Show us some actual rapid change. A final rebuttal from gradualists was to demand real-time evidence of rapid evolutionary change in species. And plenty exist. One example was wonderful research by the Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev, who in the 1950s domesticated Siberian silver foxes.65 He bred captive ones for their willingness to be in proximity to humans, and within thirty-five generations he’d generated tame foxes who’d cuddle in your arms. Pretty punctuated, I’d say. The problem here is that this is artificial rather than natural selection. Interestingly, the opposite has occurred in Moscow, which has a population of thirty thousand feral dogs dating back to the nineteenth century (and where some contemporary dogs have famously mastered riding the Moscow subway system).66 Most Moscow dogs are now descendants of generations of feral dogs, and over that time they have evolved to have a unique pack structure, avoid humans, and no longer wag their tails.


The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins

Alfred Russel Wallace, Andrew Wiles, Arthur Eddington, back-to-the-land, Claude Shannon: information theory, correlation does not imply causation, Craig Reynolds: boids flock, Danny Hillis, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Dmitri Mendeleev, domesticated silver fox, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, experimental subject, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, invisible hand, Louis Pasteur, out of africa, phenotype, Thomas Malthus

If wolves were becoming domesticated it was by self-domestication, not deliberate domestication by people. Deliberate domestication came later. We can get an idea of how tameness, or anything else, can be sculpted – naturally or artificially – by looking at a fascinating experiment of modern times, on the domestication of Russian silver foxes for use in the fur trade. It is doubly interesting because of the lessons it teaches us, over and above what Darwin knew, about the domestication process, about the ‘side-effects’ of selective breeding, and about the resemblance, which Darwin well understood, between artificial and natural selection.


pages: 578 words: 131,346

pages: 349 words: 86,224

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott

agricultural Revolution, clean water, David Graeber, demographic dividend, demographic transition, deskilling, domesticated silver fox, facts on the ground, invention of writing, joint-stock company, Louis Pasteur, mass immigration, means of production, the built environment, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade route

These changes, furthermore, occurred in what was, in evolutionary terms, the blink of an eye. We know this in part by comparing skeletal remains of domesticated animals in Mesopotamia with the remains of their wild cousins and progenitors, as well as by more contemporary experiments in domestication. The now famous Russian experiment in the taming of silver foxes is a striking example. By selecting the least aggressive (most tame) from among 130 silver foxes and breeding them to one another repeatedly, the experimenters produced, in only ten generations, 18 percent of progeny that exhibited extremely tame behavior—whining, wagging their tails, and responding favorably to petting and handling as a domestic dog might.


Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas A. Christakis

agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, assortative mating, Cass Sunstein, crowdsourcing, David Attenborough, different worldview, disruptive innovation, domesticated silver fox, double helix, epigenetics, experimental economics, experimental subject, Garrett Hardin, invention of agriculture, invention of gunpowder, invention of writing, iterative process, job satisfaction, Joi Ito, joint-stock company, land tenure, Laplace demon, longitudinal study, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, means of production, mental accounting, meta-analysis, microbiome, out of africa, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, placebo effect, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, replication crisis, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, social web, stem cell, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Tragedy of the Commons, twin studies, ultimatum game, zero-sum game

Eventually, genes and alleles predisposing humans to make beneficial sorts of social arrangements would arise and expand. This behavior could affect individual survival, not just compared with other individuals but also compared with related species that do not form such networks. Social niche construction would be adaptive. Domestic Bliss In the wild, the silver fox largely conforms to the cultural stereotype of foxes—elusive, cunning, even mean. In captivity, the creature is averse to human contact, and when it does cross paths with a human, it typically results in the human getting a firm bite. But the silver foxes at a farm outside of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Siberia yearn for human contact; they lick people’s faces, wag their tails, and whine to be picked up and held.


pages: 734 words: 244,010

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, complexity theory, delayed gratification, domesticated silver fox, double helix, Drosophila, Haight Ashbury, invention of writing, lateral thinking, Louis Pasteur, mass immigration, nuclear winter, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, Steven Pinker, the High Line, urban sprawl

Unlike modern plant and animal breeders, our forebears of the Agricultural Revolution would not knowingly have practised artificial selection for desirable characteristics. I doubt if they realised that, in order to increase milk yield, you have to mate high-yielding cows with bulls born to other high-yielding cows, and discard the calves of low-yielders. Some idea of the accidental genetic consequences of domestication is given by some interesting Russian work on silver foxes. D. K. Belyaev and his colleagues took captive silver foxes, Vulpes vulpes, and set out systematically to breed for tameness. They succeeded, dramatically. By mating together the tamest individuals of each generation, Belyaev had, within 20 years, produced foxes that behaved like border collies, actively seeking human company and wagging their tails when approached.


pages: 741 words: 199,502

Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class by Charles Murray

23andMe, affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Asperger Syndrome, assortative mating, basic income, bioinformatics, Cass Sunstein, correlation coefficient, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, domesticated silver fox, double helix, Drosophila, epigenetics, equal pay for equal work, European colonialism, feminist movement, glass ceiling, Gunnar Myrdal, income inequality, Kenneth Arrow, labor-force participation, longitudinal study, meta-analysis, out of africa, p-value, phenotype, publication bias, quantitative hedge fund, randomized controlled trial, replication crisis, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, school vouchers, Scientific racism, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Silicon Valley, social intelligence, statistical model, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, twin studies, universal basic income, working-age population

It’s not just the physiology of animals that can be changed rapidly through breeding. So can fundamental personality traits. A modern experimental example is the Siberian silver fox. In 1959, Soviet biologist Dmitry Belyaev decided to reproduce the evolution of wolves into domesticated dogs.33 Instead of using actual wolves, he obtained Siberian silver foxes from Soviet fur farms and began to breed them for tameness. The foxes were not trained in any way, nor were they selected for anything except specific indicators of tameness as puppies. In the fourth generation, Belyaev produced the first fox puppies that would wag their tails when a human approached.