Evolution is a Fact #17 - Belyaev's Silver Foxes

by cofty 14 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • cofty

    In Stalin's USSR the science of genetics was deemed "reactionary and decadent".

    Scientists were sent to the gulags or simply disappeared. Dmitri Konstantinovich Belyaev lost his job at the at the Central Research Laboratory of Fur Breeding in Moscow because of his commitment to classical genetics. His brother, also a geneticist, was arrested by the secret police and shot without trial.

    In 1959, after Nikta Khrushchev rose to power, Belyaev's fortunes changed and he was able to pursue his interest in the domestication of wild animals. Belyaev noted that most domestic animals had undergone the same basic changes.

    • Their bodies changed in size and proportions.
    • The normal pattern of coat color that had evolved as camouflage in the wild altered as well.
    • Hair turned wavy or curly and some animals' hair also became longer.
    • Many breeds of dogs and pigs carry their tails curled up in a circle or semicircle.
    • Some dogs, cats and sheep have short tails resulting from a decrease in the number of tail vertebrae.
    • Ears became floppy.

    Another major evolutionary consequence of domestication is loss of the seasonal rhythm of reproduction. Most wild animals are genetically programmed to mate once a year while domestic animals can mate and bear young more than once a year and in any season.

    Belyaev had an important insight. He suspected that all of these changes were predicated on just one trait - an animal's willingness to approach humans.

    In 1959 he began an experiment that is still ongoing more than 50 years later. He chose as his subject the Silver Fox Vulpes vulpes. Officially his objective was to breed for better fur quality but in reality he was selecting only for tameness.

    He began with 30 male foxes and 100 vixens. At seven or eight months, when cubs reached sexual maturity, they were scored for tameness and assigned to one of three classes. Only the 20% who made the elite class - the most friendly - were allowed to breed.

    The result of this breeding program conducted over more than 40 generations of silver foxes was a group of friendly, domesticated foxes. But as well as their tameness they also had floppy ears, short or curly tails, extended reproductive seasons, changes in fur coloration, and changes in the shape of their skulls, jaws, and teeth. They also lost their “musky fox smell.”

    The key thing about this experiment is that selecting for a single behavioral characteristic- or selecting against fear and aggression – resulted in changes not only in behavior, but also in a whole range of physical and physiological features.

    Belyaev's work demonstrates the amazing power of selection and the unexpected ways in which genetic effects are interconnected.

    Part 1 - Protein Functional Redundancy - - - - - - Part 2 - DNA Functional Redundancy
    Part 3 - ERVs Part 4 - Smelly Genes
    Part 5 - Vitamin C Part 6 - Human Chromosome 2
    Part 7 - Human Egg Yolk Gene Part 8 - Jumping Genes
    Part 9 - Less Chewing More Thinking Part 10 - Non-Coding DNA
    Part 11 - Tiktaalik Part 12 - Lenski's E.coli Experiment
    Part 13 - Morris Minor Bonnets Part 14 - Joey Goes to Oz
    Part 15 - Robinson Crusoe Part 16 - Aquatic Mammals
  • rebel8

    Pretty amazing!

    The same selective breeding has been done with things we can now eat.

    Unfortunately we've had people like Bush jr. putting genetic research to a stop because of religious ideology that is clearly not in line with truth...a lot of misinformed, sincere people believing false conspiracy theories about the food revolution that's safe and saving millions from starving...etc.

    Scientific illiteracy is dangerous!

  • cofty

    The experiment was cut back for funding reasons a few years ago and it became possible to obtain pets. I would love to have one of those.

  • Xanthippe

    I saw a documentary about these foxes, beautiful animals. You can email the Institute of Cytology And Genetics where they breed the domesticated silver foxes.

    This is the website


  • cofty

    Belyaev's experiment offers a likely answer to the domestication of dogs. At one time it was assumed that humans raised wolf pups and raised them to be tame. This now seems very unlikely.

    When humans began to abandon the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of farming from settlements their garbage provided a new source of food for wolves. Every wolf has it's own tolerance of proximity to humans. Those who were least likely to run away at the approach of humans would benefit more than than others. Over many generations this small advantage led to tame animals through natural selection with all of the changes in morphology that the foxes displayed.

    Eventually humans took over with artificial selection producing the huge variety of breeds we see today.


  • TheOldHippie
    But this is not macro-evolution, this is micro-evolution, adaption, and nobody denies that adaption accurs.
  • cofty

    Hi OldHippie.

    Actually there is no such distinction as micro and macro evolution.

    nobody denies that adaption accurs

    I do. Adaption is a myth. Nothing ever adapted to it's environment - ever.

    Where are you drawing the line with how much evolution you will allow? I can never get a straight answer on that.

    A wolf becoming a little fluffy friendly pooch is quite a big change. Floppy ears, short or curly tails, extended reproductive seasons, changes in fur coloration, and changes in the shape of their skulls, jaws, and teeth.

    Do you accept that wolves and foxes evolved from a common ancestor? How about Lions and Jaguars, or Eagles and sparrows?

    If you take a browse through the previous posts in this series you will see that the evidence that all living things, from humans to cabbages, evolved from a common ancestor. See the OP for links. The evidence from DNA that I covered in the first 10 threads is especially compelling. It is the very same sort of evidence used in court to convict rapists and establish paternity.

    Number 11 is a great example of transition from fish to amphibian and number 18 will build on that. Number 16 proves the common ancestry of aquatic mammals and hippos.

  • Perry

    Let's sum up 40 years of effort:

    1. You start with a Canine

    2. 40 Years later you end up with a Canine.

    And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. - Genesis 1: 25

    Canines will never turn into docile doodle bugs no matter how much selective breeding is performed. The fox experiment is powerful proof that certain boundaries cannot be crossed with selective breeding processes, exactly as God indicated with his statements above.

  • cofty

    Perry read everything I said to OldHippe

    Canines will never turn into docile doodle bugs

    What is a docile doodle bug?

    Please answer the question of where you are drawing the line. What specifically is a kind?

    Are hippos and whales the same "kind"?

    Are ray-finned fish and lobe-finned fish the same kind?

    Are lobe-finned fish and amphibians the same kind?

  • LoveUniHateExams

    Let's sum up 40 years of effort - blah blah God, blah blah Genesis

    Let's sum it up better:

    in just fifty years, spanning only forty generations, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has started to evolve via artificial selection.

    Evolution in action.

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