Frank Albert: What makes domestic animals domestic? Identifying the genetic basis for tameness

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Frank Albert, Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany
Friday, March 12, 2010, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM
Location: 506 Engineering 2
Hosted By David Haussler


Domestication of animals has played an important role in human history, but little is known about genes that underlie differences between domestics and their wild relatives. In particular, all domestic animals are tame (i.e., they tolerate human presence and handling). To uncover the genetic basis for tameness, we study two lines of wild-caught rats (Rattus norvegicus) established in 1972 by D.K. Belyaev in Novosibirsk, Russia. These animals have been continuously selected for tame or aggressive behavior against humans, such that today tame rats tolerate being touched and handled while the aggressive rats attack and flee from an approaching hand.

We have performed a cross between the tame and aggressive rats, generating more than 700 F2 animals, and have identified a major QTL for tameness, as well as additional QTLs for tameness and other traits. The tameness loci form an epistatic network, where the effects of individual loci are modified by genotypes at the other loci. We have used microarray-based capture to sequence all exons under the QTL in the founder individuals of the pedigree and are analyzing the data for patterns indicative of selection in the two rat lines. We have also measured gene expression in the brains of the tame and the aggressive rats using mRNA-Seq. We anticipate that these and other approaches will identify genes causing tameness and aggression in this model of domestication.

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