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.
- Medicine, Maths, and Economics Puzzles We asked three of our top Medicine, Maths, and... Read more >
- PAT mini mock paper & answers The Physics Aptitude Test or PAT is required by Oxford... Read more >
- June’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- Taking a Gap Year There are a number of advantages to taking a gap... Read more >
- Funding Your Oxbridge Degree Many people are under the impression that it is more... Read more >
- What You Need To Know About A Level Reforms The A Level system that has been in place since... Read more >
- Oxford and Cambridge Access Schemes Oxford and Cambridge aim to offer places to the best... Read more >
- Cambridge Law Test overview If you’re applying to read Law at Cambridge you will probably need... Read more >
- Download a Law Personal Statement “Participating in a Citizenship Foundation Mock Trial Competition during Year... Read more >
- Download a Physics Personal Statement “Over the past few years I have become gradually more... Read more >
- BMAT mini mock paper & answers With over 90% of applicants now preparing for the admissions... Read more >
- LNAT ‘So you want to go to Oxbridge’ Answers If you have been reading our book ‘So you want... Read more >
- Interactive Interview Exercise Manual ‘What should I expect at my Oxbridge interview?’ ‘How will... Read more >
- Using stats: dos and don’ts When making an application, you must be careful about using... Read more >
- Music Reading List Applying for Music at Cambridge or Oxford requires a range... Read more >
- What Results Do You Need In Your Exams? At the heart of every Oxbridge offer is an excellent... Read more >
- Experimental Psychology & Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) Reading List If you are interested in Psychology, Oxford offers the Psychology... Read more >
- Medical & Biological Sciences Reading Lists Medicine and the whole range of Biological Sciences are highly... Read more >
- Download an Economics Personal Statement “I have a keen interest in current affairs but have... Read more >
- History of Art Reading List History of Art at Oxford and Cambridge allows you to... Read more >
- Sports psychology for interviews Channel your inner champion Major sports personalities use these techniques... Read more >
- February’s Top News Stories Read more about some of the biggest news stories to... Read more >
- The Most Competitive Subjects At Oxbridge (And How To Choose Wisely) Oxford and Cambridge are two of the best universities in the... Read more >
- MAT mini mock paper & answers If you are planning to apply to Oxford to read... Read more >