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Thread: Taming the Beast

  1. #1 Taming the Beast 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    The title above comes from New Scientist. However, I could not find their article on the internet and the reference as below is different, but covers the same stuff.

    http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs..../1036/national

    This was fascinating. A Russian experimenter, in just 20 years, working with silver foxes, bred them to be tame. Not only did they become friendly to people and non aggressive, but they also underwent physical changes, including wider skulls, floppy ears, shorter tails, and the habit of tail wagging. Sound familiar?

    Before this, no-one believed that tameness could be bred into genes so quickly. The researcher also bred two strains of rats. One so tame that they would crawl inside people's clothes for warmth and comfort, and the other so aggressive that they would bite on every occasion where they could, and they had to be handled with steel mesh gauntlets. It took 30 years, and both came from the same initial stock.

    This opens all sorts of prospects. Perhaps we could breed tame tigers. Tame lions. Chimpanzees that would cuddle up to you, even as adult males, instead of pulling your arms off!


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  3. #2  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    This is old research, but what I've always found interesting is how selective breeding for neotony also resulted in foxes with spots and floppy ears. It explains why domestic dogs look so different from wolves even if we didn't start breeding them for aesthetic reasons.


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  4. #3  
    Time Lord
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    Yeah Sleepy's got the real curious finding. It suggests the foxes have unrelated potentials that (figuratively) flicking one little switch unlocked.

    This opens all sorts of prospects. Perhaps we could breed tame tigers. Tame lions...
    But what if they get floppy ears and waggy tails as a result?
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  5. #4  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    I am sure lots of people could love a floppy eared, waggy tailed tiger. Couldn't you?
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    Damn..I thought this was a thread about masturbation...
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  7. #6  
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    The chimp idea sounds interesting...you could breed worker chimps, or even create a legion of highly-trained warrior chimps to take over the world!!
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  8. #7  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Domestication of cats doesn't quite seem to work the same way as the domestication of the dog family of species.

    Just look at your house cat. It's not always clear which part of it is domesticated.

    The canine family is in that sense maybe special because they have the tools present that allow for 'easy' domestication.

    In case of the dog it is the reduced fear of humans (which is also present in the domesticated cat, as long as it is raised properly) in combination with the trait of being completely focused on the human species (which isn't a natural part of the domesticated cat, in fact, many people wonder who is really in charge).

    They have done tests on this. When dogs and wolves are young there isn't really much difference between then when it comes to being attuned to humans. Wolf pups do just as well at point experiments (human points to object). However when wolves get older they lose the focus completely on the humans. Unlike dogs who just get more attuned to humans. In fact, dogs usually are more attuned to humans, than other dogs when both are around.

    Therefore I have the hypothesis that the dog family has innate characteristics that allow for domestication, more so than most other species.

    This can be extended to other species as well. Why were cows domesticated and not wildebeests? Why goats and not antelopes?

    Historic accident? Or predisposition?
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  9. #8  
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    SM

    Up to a point, your hypothesis is correct. In fact, the animals that can be domesticated to the point of being focused on humans are those that are naturally gregarious. Wolves are a pack animal- naturally sociable. Dogs retain many of the wolf cub characteristics, which are needed to keep them subservient to the pack leaders. To a dog, a human is a kind of dog, Mark II. The Mark II dog is a pack leader, which the Mark I dogs learn early, and they react to humans that way thereafter.

    On this basis, complete taming, as in dogs rather than cats, is possible with animals naturally gregarious.

    Note, though, that there are breeds of dog in which breeding has gone the other way, with breeders aiming for more aggression. Those breeds may go on to challenge humans for pack leadership - an action often leading to tragedy.
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    Cats are pretty social animals as well though. I think a major difference is exactly what each species were bread for. Maybe Neolithic man regarded cattle as giving better tasting milk and meat. Dogs were bread to serve utilitarian needs, which meant the dog had to be able to follow orders. With cats though, I am not too sure what they were bread for. They are just right for pest control already, judging from smaller wild cats and the amount of affection we give each other is pretty similar to the kind of attention they give each other in the wild. I have read that in cats' eyes we're about on the same level in our social circle.
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  11. #10  
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    Kalster

    Cats were originally kept as pest control agents. They were kept near the wheat granaries, where they could hunt and kill rats, and they were fed enough to keep them alive, and slim, and hungry which gave them lots of incentive to hunt and kill their extra food. In old Egypt, their role in preserving wheat grain stores was so important that they were accorded sacred status.

    I like the Jungle Book description of the cat. The cat that walks by itself. While you are correct about cats being, at least a little bit social, it is also true that this is limited compared to dogs. Tom cats in particular, will not socialise except for sexual purposes, which is another good reason to neuter them when young.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Freshman Holbenilord's Avatar
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    But it is much harder to domesticate, say a zebra, than a horse.
    http://s1.zetaboards.com/Conceptual_Evolution/index/

    Is the new address for speculative evolution.
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    Holben

    How do you know that?
    If the breeders were to follow the recipe in the article referenced, with zebras, we might see horses with striped pyjamas winning major races!
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    it appears that domestication of zebras has been attempted, with varying degrees of success, see wikipedia

    there is reference to them being more unpredictable and easy to panic, so maybe the effort wasn't worth it ?
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  15. #14  
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    The original New Scientist article specifically mentions zebras, because they are hard to domesticate.

    The suggestion is that, while genetically unaltered zebras are too much trouble to bother with, after a few generations of breeding for tameness, that situation would change dramatically.

    There are big advantages in using African animals as domestic beasts, in Africa, since they are already adapted to the African environment, and are resistant to African diseases. So, to breed wild buffalo as tame domestic beasts would permit them to be farmed. This would allow farming of stock in areas impossible for cattle, and increase food supplies to Africans. (or set up a lucrative export trade?)
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  16. #15  
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    Perhaps most species simply lack the potential? Compare horses and camels. We've bred both in captivity for more than a thousand of their generations (camels reach sexual maturity earlier than horses) yet camels remain surly and unpredictable.

    As for dogs, their apparently innate obsession with food scrounged from humans is the key IMO, not so much the pack leader thing. I hypothesize they evolved this habit over hundreds of thousands of years scavenging after groups of hunters, as a nuisance not team players (though we probably threw sticks at them). Dogs focus on acquiring that next tossed scrap like heroin junkies on the next fix. I wonder if anybody's monitored their serotonin levels when they receive treats?
    A pong by any other name is still a pong. -williampinn
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  17. #16  
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    On the topic of selectively breeding something to make it more friendly and domesticated, I'd like to add an interesting point I recently learnt in medical school:

    There is an interesting genetic disorder in humans called Williams Syndrome, where about 26 genes are lost from a chromosome abnormality. Along with significant mental deficits, and a curious adoration of music that goes with every sufferer of this syndrome, they are hyper-sociable. Doctors refer to it as the 'cocktail party' behaviour - they are super friendly, they love meeting people, and have a really cheery mentality around people. The fact that such behaviour can be programmed into genes is *so* interesting in my opinion.

    I really don't want you to get the wrong idea, I'm not talking about domesticating humans, I just thought the genetic-clinical correlation in humans shows that it's not surprising that you can domesticate any animal given the right mutations.
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  18. #17  
    Forum Freshman Holbenilord's Avatar
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    They sound like my dog.
    http://s1.zetaboards.com/Conceptual_Evolution/index/

    Is the new address for speculative evolution.
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