There are different opinions on whether domestication as a process can give you insight into evolutionary processes. The divergence goes back to the beginning of evolutionary biology. Charles Darwin was an optimist, a country gentlemen who spent much of is life in rural England. Alfred Wallace on the other hand seemed to focus more on natural selection in the wild, raw and unconstrained. A week ago at the Biology of Genomes Conference Alex Cagan presented research on broad convergences of the evolutionary genomics of tame and domestic lineages in mammals, Tameness is in the genes:
Cagan and colleagues examined DNA in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) that had been bred for 70 generations to be either tame or aggressive toward humans. Docility was associated with genetic changes in 1,880 genes in the rats. American minks (Neovison vison) bred for tameness over 15 generations had tameness-associated variants in 525 genes, including 82 that were also changed in the rats.
Some people on Twitter joked that this was a trivial finding, as we’ve long known that domestication is a heritable process mediated via quantitative genetics. But the interesting aspect of this research is that it seems that the same pathways lead back to the same broad set of genetic families. In other words, selection does not operate over an infinitely malleable and plastic genome over the medium-term evolutionary time scale. Not world-shaking, but critical to get a fix upon (definitely not surprising in light of how Hox genes and opsins have been known to evolve over and over).
I bring this up now because on tonight’s episode of Through the Wormhome, titled Are We Here for a Reason?, I’m interviewed in the third segment, where I give my opinions on domestication and its relevance toward evolution and the human future. This follows up my small role in the PNAS paper from last fall, Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlying feline biology and domestication. As my current professional interests are still fixed upon this area of evolutionary genomics, expect to hear more from me!
As for the logistics of the show, it’s on The Science Channel, a Discovery cable property. For those without a television it seems that you’ll find it online soon enough. I have seen a preview, and it’s pretty good. I’m flattered to be on after Richard Lenski. The production values are good, I’m hoping that people will learn something. Please do remember that a lot of filming was reduced down to 5-10 minutes. It is amusing to see where they inserted graphs; that’s usually where I got a little too nerdy and technical, even though the director kept trying to get me under control.
P.S. I had a cold that day, for the record.