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50 Years of Domesticating Foxes For Science 347

gamebittk writes "In 1959, Soviet scientist Dmitri Belyaev set out to breed a tamer fox that would be easier for their handlers in the Russian fur industry to work with. Much to the scientist's shock, changes no one had expected emerged after just 10 generations. The foxes began behaving playfully, were smaller in size, and even changed color — much like dogs." Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment continued (PDF) in his absence, and to this day provides strong evidence to parts of evolutionary theory. The experiment eventually branched out to involve other species as well.
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50 Years of Domesticating Foxes For Science

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  • Playing God (Score:5, Informative)

    by Potor ( 658520 ) <farker1@gmail. c o m> on Saturday December 26, 2009 @09:52AM (#30555486) Journal

    All our science and technology is based on the idea that we can understand, control, and improve nature.

    Playing God, in the Xn tradition, is creatio ex nihilo. Tweaking nature - even with catastrophic results - is not playing God.

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @10:28AM (#30555584)

    Yeah, well, you started it, didn't you? Of course, like all master race discussions, yours appears to start with a couple of false assumptions and goes from there.

    "As I read through the article, blue eyes, fair skin and hair were as indicated as behavior."

    No, they weren't. Even the short article notes that Belyaev selected foxes based on which ones snapped at him when he offered his hand. Changes in coat colour (similar to those observed in dogs vs. wolves) were noted as a surprising incidental result. The more recent actual paper also linked mentions that those changes are likely a side effect of general changes in the timing of development, and are similar to mechanisms seen in dogs.

    "And in the articles, it was by selective breeding with these patterns in mind, that these new foxes and rats were created."

    No, it wasn't.

    "I am trying to avoid presenting this as an argument for racism, but I think it is almost instinctive that darker skinned people are more feared than lighter skinned people."

    All your arguments for this belief are heavily based on what is likely your society of origin, the US, which has and continues to have a very uneven relationship with people who have dark skin.

  • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @10:46AM (#30555690) Journal

    You know.. those blue-eyed, fair-skinned, fair-haired sissies that have found time to discover America during their break of looting and pillaging across Europe.

    Anecdotal evidence such as that might point us to a crazy idea that human beings are not foxes.
    That they don't eat like foxes, breed like foxes, live as long as foxes, socialize like foxes or THINK like foxes.

    And therein lies the proverbial pudding* - we didn't really evolve that much since we got ourselves these big brainy things that we use for thinking.
    You know... that central junction box that does most of our nerve-signal routing, which can control the production and use of hormones in our bodies, besides being used for learning skills and thinking shit up.
    In other words - we are a hell of a lot more complex animals then foxes. We have much greater control (and tolerance) over our hormones AND our life circumstances.
    Also, we stopped fiddling with evolving our pigmentation back when we discovered clothing. Gave it up completely once we came up with makeup and hair-coloring.


    *I know how the phrase goes. I've misused it intentionally to piss off grammar-Nazis and culture-trolls.

  • Re:Evolution - NOT! (Score:2, Informative)

    by therealkevinkretz ( 1585825 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @11:18AM (#30555892)
    Evolution is neither random nor does it "add new material". Evolution is the process by which the genetic makeup of a population changes. Pressure to change can come from selective breeding (with humans guiding which genes are passed along to successive generations) or natural selection (with genes for a preferable trait are passed along more than others). You seem to be mixing up "evolution" with some of those things, as well as mutation.
  • Radiolab - New Nice (Score:2, Informative)

    by 742Evergreen ( 208020 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @11:59AM (#30556162)

    WNYC's Radiolab recently did a story on this subject too. The program is split into 3 parts, and the last one is about these foxes. To get a better sense of what the program is about, I would suggest listening to the whole episode. An hour well spent. []

  • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @01:59PM (#30557002)

    The Russians found the biggest meanest Doberman and Rottweiler dogs in the world and bred them with the biggest meanest Siberian wolves.

    Fun Fact:

    Why would Russians bother with breeding Doberman and Rottweilers when they already have something much bigger and stronger []?

    Another Fun Fact:

    Google for recent events in Georgia, Grozny or Azerbaijan and you'll discover their owners are no less intimidating than their dogs. Apparently, the locals consider bear hunting with Ovcharkas as "sport".

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Saturday December 26, 2009 @02:58PM (#30557416)

    Oh you creationists are so determinedly ignorant.

    Secondly, it is not clear even from a biological point of view how a new complex system can arise by random chance, such as developing an entirely different organ for example in a very gradual way.

    It's perfectly clear how organs can result from evolution in a gradual series of steps. Here Richard Dawkins explains exactly for the evolution of the eyeball in so simple a way a way a child could understand. You'd benefit from watching the whole thing, but if you want to cut to the chase, the eye section starts at about 23 minutes in. []

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford