Lyudmila Trut has a name that sounds like that of a Roald Dahl character, and rightly so, because she is part of the research team that has created a breed of ‘Fantastic Mr Foxes’. These tame foxes have been bred over several generations and are now docile enough to be kept as house pets, just like a cat or dog.
Begun by Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev in the 1950s, the study was first tried with silver-black foxes who were bred in captivity in fur farms. When the USSR was under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, genetic studies were officially banned, so the experiment had operate under the guise of creating better pelts for the fur industry.
Thirty males and one hundred females were chosen to start the experiment. Belyaev and his colleagues selected their breeding foxes by picking only those that did not respond with aggression or fear when their cages were opened. The litters that were born were hand fed and any of cubs that showed negative reactions to humans were removed from the programme i.e. turned into fur coats! Other than being fed, no other training or interaction was imposed on the experimental fox population, meaning that the chosen foxes (10%) were selected on purely genetic traits.
Belyaev’s project is now continued by his former intern, Trut. Today’s fully tame fox population has changed from their wild ancestors in more than just disposition. The foxes exhibit characteristics like those of dogs – behavioural (whimpering, licking and tail wagging) and physical (flopping ears, more rounded skulls and curving tails). Many of the morphological changes in the study population can be attributed to new levels of hormones and neurotransmitters, such as Serotonin. We had just better hope that they don’t breed them so clever that they start to devise ingenious tunnel-based plans to rob us of our chickens!
To keep the scientists’ work going, some foxes born as part of the study are now sold as pets to the US and the UK (where foxes can be legally kept as pets), however the study is still experiencing financial difficulties.
Those students applying to study Biology would be wise to look into the process of selective breeding to create domesticated animals. Future Historians should study the impact of politics on scientific research programmes. Pupils hoping to study Law might be interested in the legal side of unusual/exotic animal ownership.
- Medical & Biological Sciences Reading Lists Medicine and the whole range of Biological Sciences are highly... Read more >
- Maths Puzzle: The Age of Census A census-taker knocks on a door, and asks the woman... Read more >
- Cambridge college snapshots Despite having a smaller number of colleges than Oxford, each of... Read more >
- Personal Statement Action Plan: Section 2 of 2 You’ve done your reading. You’ve made your brainstorm. You’ve possibly... Read more >
- Cambridge’s Supplementary Application Questionnaire After you have submitted your UCAS application to apply to... Read more >
- TSA Oxford mini mock & answers Thinking is very important to Oxford, so they’ve devised an... Read more >
- Information on choosing a course at Oxford or Cambridge “Perhaps it is because Oxbridge encourages more ‘traditional’ A Level... Read more >
- February’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- UCAS: A How To Guide The process of applying to university through UCAS can seem... Read more >
- The Great Collection of Past Oxbridge Interview Questions The great thing about an Oxbridge interview is that it... Read more >
- Music Scholarships There is a wide range of musical scholarships available to... Read more >
- Your Open Day Guide Open Days can be an extremely useful way of finding... Read more >
- Economics & Logic Puzzle: ticket touts We asked top Economics blogger Resham Kotecha to challenge us... Read more >
- What’s so special about Oxford and Cambridge? Both Oxford and Cambridge have fearsome reputations. The Oxbridge system... Read more >
- PPE: answer like a pro If you’re applying for Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) or... Read more >
- Statistics: 2015 Annual Survey Want to find out what your chances are of getting... Read more >
- Oxford and Cambridge Access Schemes Oxford and Cambridge aim to offer places to the best... Read more >
- Access and Financial Support at Oxbridge As two of the world’s top universities, both Oxford and... Read more >
- History of Art Reading List History of Art at Oxford and Cambridge allows you to... Read more >
- HAT overview If you’re applying for History, or its joint schools, you... Read more >
- Oxford and Cambridge International Grade Requirements If you’re applying to Cambridge or Oxford but you’ve not... Read more >
- March’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- BMAT overview & tips If you’re applying for Medicine, Biomedical Sciences or Veterinary Medicine you... Read more >
- University Admissions Tests: How Would You Reply? Here we have a few questions and answers to sample... Read more >