Read eBook How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) By Lee Alan Dugatkin –

Tucked Away In Siberia, There Are Furry, Four Legged Creatures With Wagging Tails And Floppy Ears That Are As Docile And Friendly As Any Lapdog But, Despite Appearances, These Are Not Dogs They Are Foxes They Are The Result Of The Most Astonishing Experiment In Breeding Ever Undertaken Imagine Speeding Up Thousands Of Years Of Evolution Into A Few Decades In , Biologists Dmitri Belyaev And Lyudmila Trut Set Out To Do Just That, By Starting With A Few Dozen Silver Foxes From Fox Farms In The USSR And Attempting To Recreate The Evolution Of Wolves Into Dogs In Real Time In Order To Witness The Process Of Domestication This Is The Extraordinary, Untold Story Of This Remarkable Undertaking Most Accounts Of The Natural Evolution Of Wolves Place It Over A Span Of About , Years, But Within A Decade, Belyaev And Trut S Fox Breeding Experiments Had Resulted In Puppy Like Foxes With Floppy Ears, Piebald Spots, And Curly Tails Along With These Physical Changes Came Genetic And Behavioral Changes, As Well The Foxes Were Bred Using Selection Criteria For Tameness, And With Each Generation, They Became Increasingly Interested In Human Companionship Trut Has Been There The Whole Time, And Has Been The Lead Scientist On This Work Since Belyaev S Death In , And With Lee Dugatkin, Biologist And Science Writer, She Tells The Story Of The Adventure, Science, Politics, And Love Behind It All In How To Tame A Fox, Dugatkin And Trut Take Us Inside This Path Breaking Experiment In The Midst Of The Brutal Winters Of Siberia To Reveal How Scientific History Is Made And Continues To Be Made Today To Date, Fifty Six Generations Of Foxes Have Been Domesticated, And We Continue To Learn Significant Lessons From Them About The Genetic And Behavioral Evolution Of Domesticated Animals How To Tame A Fox Offers An Incredible Tale Of Scientists At Work, While Also Celebrating The Deep Attachments That Have Brought Humans And Animals Together Throughout Time

10 thoughts on “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog)

  1. says:

    Monument to Academician D K Belyaev and Tame Fox by Sirozha, from Belyaev s Wikipedia pageLee Alan Dugatkin spoke at my local book festival last Labor Day weekend, and since the tame fox research had figured in prior reading, I bought the book, which the author said was the first to tell the whole story The story begins in 1952, when then 35 year old scientist Dmitri Belyaev visited commercial fox fur farms in the Soviet Union to start pilot projects and gets officially underway in 1958 when he chose student Lyudmila Trut to run the projectBelyaev s interest was domestication He told Trut he wanted to make a dog out of a fox He wanted to discover in real time how wolves had become dogs Supposedly evolution took place over eons, but he d noticed changes in the fur color of the minks that, along with foxes, formed the mainstay of Russia s approximately 30 year old fur industry He hypothesized that the mink must have had genetic variability for fur color already present albeit dormant and that it had been triggered by changes in selection pressure Further, he guessed that selection for tameness could goose the activation of the domestication process in foxes.Belyaev conjectured that the process of domestication was spread by our early ancestors having selected for tameness But the process isn t necessarily one way Animals less suited for life in the wild may have hung around humans, thus increasing the chances of their own survival Then the demand placed by living near or among humans cumulatively wreaked its further impact on successive offspring If the behavior and physiology of an animal was stably geared to the demands of its environment, what happened when that environment changed, posing new and different conditions for survival He thought that the new pressures would change activity in the genes and how they regulated functioning, possibly releasing a cascade of changes Given the initial time period in which he began, Belyaev was thinking in terms of hormones rather than neurotransmitters and DNA.Lee Alan Dugatkin, the primary author, who is an evolutionary biologist and historian of science, then gives the reader some background on animal domestication Dogs were first by a long shot, then our other domesticated species But some animals have not been able to be domesticated, for example, zebras, despite being close relatives of horses Perhaps they lacked sufficient genetic variability It wasn t a sure thing that foxes could be domesticated The foxes in the fur farms were so fierce that workers who handled them had to wear two inch thick gloves At the outset those workers were incredulous about taming Also, foxes live in isolation except during breeding instead of in packs like wolves lone fox would be a accurate expression than lone wolf Nevertheless, changes did begin to emerge as soon as three generations after standardized selection for tameness and successive breeding of the tamest Even in the second generation the tamest allowed themselves to be petted, and by the sixth and seventh, tail wagging, then curly tails emerged, as well as pups opening their eyes a day earlier And eventually there were many changes The project incorporated a control group of foxes and then the breeding of an aggressive group, too.After its beginning in commercial fur farms, the project was housed in an experimental fox farm in Akademgorodok founded 1958 , near Novosibirsk in Siberia Part of the background for the story is its political context The work began while Stalin was still living, and even after his death, Belyaev had to dodge the influence of the sham scientist Trofim Lysenko Lysenko had been put in charge of science Genetics was outlawed, so Belyaev at first had to work under the guise of improving the fur industry The threat was serious Belyaev s older brother, who had been involved in another branch of genetics, had been disappeared in 1937 he later was found to have been arrested and executed Lysenko also had faked data on higher crop yields, which played into the deaths by famine under Stalin His power over the USSR s scientific community only gradually waned, but even then there was Khrushchev to contend with Being in Siberia served a useful purpose in that respect.As time went on, the politics of Detente allowed work with the international community which, however, suffered when the Cold War ratcheted up again in the 80s Then with the chaos that accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union, funding disappeared By then Dmitri Belyaev had died, leaving the work to Lyudmila Trut, his worthy successor Foxes starved and sickened, greatly reducing their number, and Trut had to make some Sophie s Choices to sacrifice some of the animals for their fur for income to save the rest Also, past connections allowed her to reach out to the West Here is a PDF of the article that appeared in the March April 1999 issue of American Scientist, giving the history of the work and a bibliography, as well as appealing for help appeal also went out via the New York Times science writer Malcolm Browne, and interestingly some of what s in the article doesn t clearly fit with this book I read For example, the book doesn t seem to emphasize the absolute point made by Trut in the article as to the thousands of years of change in the wild versus what was being observed to happen so rapidly in the experiment Also, the book never refers to Dr Trut, who was still an undergrad when Belyaev recruited her in 1958 the difficult decade of the 90s, work resumed, now involving collaborators from outside Russia Russian born scientist Anna Kukekova, then at Cornell, helped map the fox genome and compare it to that of dogs Most dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes to the silver fox s 17, but it turned out there was enough overlap to proceed Trut received that news soon after her 70th birthday 45 years after she had joined the project The initial results from mapping just a portion of the fox genome was enough to elicit the funds to continue from the National Institutes of Health Further DNA analysis based on DNA samples from 685 tame and aggressive foxes showed the unique characteristics of the two groups could be mapped onto a specific part of Chromosome 12, where the two groups, in the words of the author, had different sets of genes By then we re up to 2011, 59 years after Belyaev made his initial foray with an eye toward beginning the project It was 53 years since Trut had joined.In the meantime, another scientist, Brian Hare, did cognitive studies, particularly studies of social cognition, with the foxes The tame foxes did well on so called object choice tasks, that is, the ability to follow human cues in determining under which cup a piece of food is hidden Dogs are good at this, but wolves and chimps can t do it Sure enough, tame foxes could do it a little better than dogs could , but not the control group of foxes they couldn t.Another scientist studied strange new vocalizations made by the tame foxes someone else showed they could be trained like dogs, and still someone else showed that the relationship seen in dogs between wider, rounded snouts and thicker, shorter legs held for tame foxes, too.The author puts the developments in this book in their scientific contexts, which I found helpful, for instance, issues of nature versus nurture, emergence of humanoids and ancient relationships of dogs and people, and contrast of chimps and bonobos in consideration of what he calls self domestication in humans At the time of Belyaev s early hypotheses, talk of genes being activated or being inactive may have been radical, but not so much any Here is an article from the Feb.22, 2018, issue of The Economist on products of genes that inactivate other genes by binding to RNA, the messenger, and rendering it inactive I m primarily looking at the first part of this article, as I found the part about schizophrenia abstruse Although this book itself is about adaptation only in regard to domestication, other stressful changes in the environment also call forth adaptation, which sometimes is heritable read this book out loud, which may have been a mistake There is a lot of anecdotal material stories about the principals and about episodes with the tame foxes that one could speed through if simply reading Also I thought the main principals, Belyaev and Trut, were made into such paragons that it was like studying about George Washington and the cherry tree Maybe they were, but, still, that doesn t make for the most interesting reading.Also I noticed the author usually has reference to such phrases as people s having become dogs masters, people s domesticating dogs, and, when it s people we re talking about, self domestication And reference to the selection for tameness in the fox experiment as artificial He does broach the directionality issue by indicating wolves may have begun their own domestication, but he tends to revert If wolves initiated the domestication process, wouldn t that be self domestication I realize artificial may refer to the foxes being in cages and so couldn t initiate But once the process began, they were involved What I m getting at is that people are part of nature, too, not outside it.Sometimes I m self critical about having decided not to pursue biology or medicine, but I think it may have been for good reasons, not simply reasons of avoidance Just not quite as exciting as other areas of study, in a way that can t be pinned entirely on the book, despite my little quibbles.This book, along with two others, received a current review in The New York Review of Books On April 5, 2018, I went over to the nearby Carter Center to hear a talk by the evolutionary biologist author of the new book Darwin Comes to Town How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution The book is about rapid evolution that s being observed as cities cover and of the globe and animals adapt The subject matter, I thought, was related to the subject of this Fox book That author began his talk by describing varieties of beetles that have adapted to living in anthills and fooling the ants for the benefit of the beetle species Such adaptations, he said, had occurred over thousands of years Then he talked about the varieties of birds, lizards, outdoor mice, and other animals that are the subject of his book, having shown adaptive changes over relatively short periods of time But he seemed to be implying that this all is the result of mutations, though how the observed changes could happen over such short periods seems to conflict with the familiar thousands of years or even hundreds of thousands meme One topic was hedgehogs getting their heads stuck by the quills in fast food soft ice cream cups, and the author did have a photo of a quill less hedgehog, but no evidence of a proliferation of advantageously mutated hedgehogs So, in the question and answer portion, I asked using the language of the Fox book whether he was looking at differential activation of already present genetic variability, since how could mutations account for change occurring over only decades or even years Well, he didn t answer clearly He didn t acknowledge anything re activation So then someone else, maybe a student, asked a related question can t remember , and the speaker answered in terms of epigenetics, which he said is when there is different and heritable gene expression I think he used the term expression but without genetic change in DNA That s what the Economist link is about epigenetics and how changes are passed along if not through DNA So then I went back to the Fox book Is it referring to genetic or epigenetic change First, the Fox book does claim to be about an experiment on evolution, an experiment producing significant results in shorter time than a classic interpretation of Darwin s theory of evolution would suggest p 24 Then I looked to the end of the book, since it was only toward the later years of the fox experiment that gene sequencing and so forth could be done Now they could begin with the difficult job of identifying which of the genes they had mapped might be linked to the changes involved in domestication, and ultimately begin understanding how on earth it was possible that bits of DNA that once coded for a wild animal could be tweaked to produce a human loving domesticated creature pp 184 185 They discovered that the genes associated with many of the changes to the unique behavioral and morphological characteristics of the tame foxes could be mapped onto a specific region of fox chromosome 12 On this region, the elite and aggressive foxes had different sets of genes p 187 Many of the genes of chromosome 12 of the foxes that were involved in their domestication were also found on the corresponding dog chromosomes involved in their domestication It was almost too good to be true p 187 Next they would conduct experiments to probe into the specific function of each of the genes and into whether the expression of these genes had been altered to bring about the characteristics of domestication, as Dmitri had suggested from the start, before people even had a lexicon with such terms By 2011, technology was available to begin doing this pp 187 188 They were able to identify 13,624 genes, and in a complex analysis of the amount of proteins being produced by those genes in the tame foxes versus the aggressive foxes, they discovered that in 335 of these genes or about 3% there were dramatic differences in the protein production levels For example, the HTR2C gene, which is important in the production of serotonin and dopamine, had higher levels of expression in the tame foxes What was especially intriguing was that with some of the 335 genes 280 of them expression was higher in the tame foxes, while in the rest of them, expression was lower in the tame foxes than in the aggressive foxes So the change to tamer behavior appeared to involve no simple process What s , there were complex interactions between these genes as well So complex is the story of the expression of the full set of these genes that it will be the subject of investigation for years to come pp 188 189 Both the Fox book and the new book Darwin Comes to Town, which I haven t read and which is by another author, are intended for lay audiences The authors of the Fox book do seem to be talking about genetic change.In going back into the book and searching for answers to my question, I noticed how the author, in weaving his story, jumps around That made it hard to link up the sections that are about gene sequencing Also, I think that s part of what made the book somewhat boring I wondered again about whether the author was being esoteric to avoid controversy.

  2. says:

    Hello yes I d like to adopt a fox

  3. says:

    Dugatkin constructs a fascinating popular science and biography of the fox domestication project in 1960s 90s USSR The story traces the two geneticists who devoted much of their life to the project, Dmitry Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut, as well as several of the foxes who evolved into the domesticated pets.I liked how Dugatkin set the stage of Soviet science, state sponsored research, and the ways that Balyaev and Trut went about setting up and maintaining the experiments through decades of political and academic turmoil, and the speculations about humans and their own evolution domestication.

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  5. says:

    Dedicated scientists, adorable animals, and the realities of Soviet era scientific researchI have been intrigued by recent reports about research into how wild animals evolved into the companions beloved of so many people today throughout the world How to Tame a Fox showed me that the tale is even interesting than I had thought How to Tame a Fox tells the story of genetics researchers in Novosibirsk who have been breeding foxes since 1959 to try to learn if they could develop a domesticated fox line and, if they were successful, how those foxes would differ from their aggressive brethren The authors make a perfect collaboration University of Louisville biology professor Lee Alan Dugatkin has an interest in the history of science Geneticist Lyudmila Trut has, astonishingly, worked on the Novosibirsk project since its beginning in 1959 and added her recollections to others to produce the very lively tale of the taming of the foxes I laughed and I cried and I cheered on the researchers as they worked to keep their project alive during the era when Lysenko was the face of Soviet genetics and international networking was almost impossible for Soviet scientists I immediately fell in love with the friendly little foxes in the color photographs I could easily see this book becoming a hit movie Along the way, readers will also learn a lot about the current theories on how animals and humans became domesticated.Adorable animals, dedicated scientists fighting for truth in the Soviet Union, and cutting edge science what s not to like This is a great summer read that is definitely worth your time

  6. says:

    Given that this was co authored by Dugatkin, I was expecting this to be a popular science book, with coverage of what has been learned scientifically from the great fox domestication project started by the brilliant Dmitri Belyaev Something that is needed badly given that much of the early work in this project was only published in Russian Instead, this was a history of the project and a biography of Belyaev Overall, the history is interesting in its own right, and it is amazing Belyaev and Trut were able to accomplish anything given the political and economic struggles they were in the midst of, but what little science is covered in this book is not dealt with well Instead we are told it is amazing and expected to take the authors word for it For those of us familiar with the fox project the hope is to find out and it was not here, for those unfamiliar, they will gain little specific knowledge of the science that has been done.

  7. says:

    Of course the idea of owning a domesticated fox really appeals to me so I found this to be a most interesting book That the original foxes came from a fur farm is upsetting, as fur farms should not exist While this book did not say it, I can t help but wonder was the idea to breed and tame these foxes as much about being able to assist with increased and better fur production as it was for scientific purposes It is amazing that in just a few generations these foxes have become almost like a domesticated dog and I am sure that they would be a cute pet, however at the end of the day have we not domesticated enough animals for our own purposes For me it was a worthwhile read but I have mixed feelings about the experiment.

  8. says:

    The entire list of all the experiments that science has ever performed, if it were ever made, would belarge But, if we limit it to only those experiments which get written about in a book textbook or popular science or other , it would still be fairly long If we ranked them by how often they get mentioned, then the ones at the top would probably be things like Milgram s mock electrocutions, Pavlov s ringing of bells to make dogs salivate, and the Michelson Morley experiment that showed there is no ether Then, there would be the experiment which is the subject of this book.While it may not be top of the list, the breeding of domesticated foxes in Siberia is pretty close Conceived of and begun by Dmitri Belyaev, the experiment has been going since the 1950 s, and it makes for both great science and great reading.The villain of the story is a fellow named Lysenko, who was not a great scientist, but had the excellent advantage in the early Soviet Union of coming from a peasant background He did not believe in the genetic theories of Gregor Mendel, and would later say that DNA did not exist He believed that traits we acquire could be passed on to the next generation, in a manner rather similar to Lamarck He rose to high prominence under Stalin, and for a time made experiments such as the one Belraev wished to conduct, hazardous.Because what Belraev wished to do, was to use artificial selection to create a tame fox The core science that motivated him to do this, was the very ideas of genetics and evolution by selection that Lysenko denounced By selecting in each generation for the foxes which were least averse to human presence or, in later generations, the most eager for it , he hoped to recreate something like the process which resulted in wolves becoming dogs over 20,000 years ago.It was a daring experiment for many reasons, not all of them political There are numerous cases of humans trying, and failing repeatedly, to domesticate species For example, the zebra By committing to years of work on selecting for domestication in foxes, Belraev was gambling that the potential for it existed If, like zebras, there just wasn t any domesticatability there to select for, then it could be years spent for no gain.One of the co authors of the book, Lyudmila Trut, was another scientist who joined on the project from an early stage, and as Belraev outlasted Lysenko and the Lysenkoists who followed his ideas and began to move up the ladder of Soviet science, she eventually became the person who continued to run the experiment.The results are still coming in, over 60 years later, but some results already achieved are 1 it is possible to breed foxes to be easy to interact with, in as few as 8 generations, by simply selecting based on the degree of aversion2 it is also possible to breed foxes who are especially negative towards humans, who will bristle with rage at our approach3 the friendly, domesticated foxes end up acquiring a lot of other traits, some of them physical and some of them behavioral, that were not selected for The mechanism for becoming friendlier seems to have cascading effects.4 among these other affects appears to be an increased ability to have sex, and puppies, than once a year5 many physical attributes become slightly dog like as the generations of selection go by, including slightly floppy ears and splotchy coloringMore recent advances have resulted from the ability to do relatively cheap DNA sequencing, and the comparison of domesticated fox DNA to their wild type cousins sheds light on the process of domestication At least some of the genetic changes to appear to parallel those in the wolf dog evolution, although there is still a lot of details to be worked out there This is still very much a current science experiment, producing new results.The book does not read like a science journal, though, as the very human aspects of working with the animals is an important part of the science As the foxes become friendlier, they also become increasingly hard to resist Given the speed with which they became domesticated, which was probably faster than the analogous process from wolf to dog, one has to wonder whether or not it was changes in human friendliness that was the limiting factor Whatever generation of caveman or cavewoman who first decided to start feeding food scraps to the friendliest or least unfriendly of the wolves, could conceivably have seen the results of this within their own lifetimes.Belraev also, although he is dead now, lived to see his ideas vindicated, and his experiment become of great interest not only within Russia but throughout the world The Siberian silver fox experiment was not the only one to change our understanding of how rapid evolution could happen, but it was unquestionably one of the most important ones Fifty years ago or less in the United States and elsewhere it was common to read in science textbooks that evolution could happen only slowly, over many thousands of years, for any change other than purely cosmetic, or in any animal complex than an insect We now know that it can happen orders of magnitude quickly than that, fast enough that, if it were to happen or have happened in humans, it could produce dramatic changes in behavior in a couple centuries.This books is a very good survey of the science, and the scientists, who carried out this experiment, and the very real obstacles they had to overcome over the course of than half a century to keep it going Plus, I have to say, the color glossy photographs of foxes and fox puppies, are awfully cute I guess I m just genetically predisposed to think that.

  9. says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book How to Tame a Fox and Build a Dog struck a wonderful balance between the history of scientific study in Cold War era Russia and the science of animal behavior that was truly revolutionized with the famous fox experiment The fox experiment itself is fascinating, and sorely under reported in the US I m so happy there s an English language book out about it now so that it might be better understood and appreciated The fox experiment is an ongoing study to understand the process of domestication Belyaev began pairing the tamer foxes on fur farms with other tamer foxes and over a few generations the changes became readily apparent He believed the bulk of the changes had to do with hormones and gene expression in a time when such theorizing was largely unheard of now we know his beliefs to be largely correct Even now we re still studying what has happened to create these strange, tame foxes Domestication, while still not fully understood, is a fascinating new frontier especially as we re beginning to understand that we, too, have been domesticated and all that that means.I can t recommend this book enough, nor truly summarize all of the fascinating details that lurk between its covers This book will revolutionize the way you look at your animal companions, biology, and yourself Get your hands on it as soon as you can you won t regret it.

  10. says:

    I love this book than my heart can say I expected a short, fluffy story about the history of the fox experiment but instead I got an amazing education in science, animal behavior, Soviet history and politics, as well as a thrilling tale of heartbreak, setbacks, and triumph over adversity The science in this book was mind blowing and accessible to the lay person it s pretty amazing the things we humans have discovered through this experiment and the proving of one man s hypotheses Belyaev single handedly revolutionized what we know about nature vs nurture, domestication, and evolution.