Rabbit genome analysis reveals a polygenic basis for phenotypic change during domestication

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Science  29 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6200, pp. 1074-1079
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253714

Rabbits softly swept to domestication

When people domesticate animals, they select for tameness and tolerance of humans. What else do they look for? To identify the selective pressures that led to rabbit domestication, Carneiro et al. sequenced a domestic rabbit genome and compared it to that of its wild brethren (see the Perspective by Lohmueller). Domestication did not involve a single gene changing, but rather many gene alleles changing in frequency between tame and domestic rabbits, known as a soft selective sweep. Many of these alleles have changes that may affect brain development, supporting the idea that tameness involves changes at multiple loci.

Science, this issue p. 1074; see also p. 1000


The genetic changes underlying the initial steps of animal domestication are still poorly understood. We generated a high-quality reference genome for the rabbit and compared it to resequencing data from populations of wild and domestic rabbits. We identified more than 100 selective sweeps specific to domestic rabbits but only a relatively small number of fixed (or nearly fixed) single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for derived alleles. SNPs with marked allele frequency differences between wild and domestic rabbits were enriched for conserved noncoding sites. Enrichment analyses suggest that genes affecting brain and neuronal development have often been targeted during domestication. We propose that because of a truly complex genetic background, tame behavior in rabbits and other domestic animals evolved by shifts in allele frequencies at many loci, rather than by critical changes at only a few domestication loci.

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