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The genes of domestication

What is the genetic "signature" of domesticated animals? Researchers from the François Jacob Institute of Biology participated in a study to shed light on that very question.

Published on 7 March 2018

In the process of domestication, humans have molded the characteristics of originally wild animals to suite specific needs. The genetic mechanisms underlying the modifications remain poorly understood, particularly those that could potentially explain the development of similar characteristics across different domesticated species. However, by comparing genome alterations in two independent domestication processes, a European consortium under the direction of researchers from Grenoble-Alpes University and the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) and with the participation of the CEA has made a first step toward the characterization of the genetic basis enabling these shared constitutional changes, described by the term "domestication syndrome".

The existence of a genetic basis shared across different domestication processes had not yet been explored. The consortium thus looked at the parallel domestication histories of goats and sheep. Indeed, the domestication of both of these animals from their wild counterparts, respectively the Bezoar ibex and the Asiatic mouflon, began about 10,500 years ago in the Middle East (eastern Turkey and western Iran). 

The team's comparison of DNA sequences for the two species couples (goat/ibex and sheep/mouflon) enabled the identification of close to 40 regions in which the domestic and wild genomes differed. Those genome regions contained genes involved in nervous system function or immune response, or those associated with agriculturally-interesting traits (coats, flesh, milk, reproduction).

A major discovery was that 20 of these regions are shared between goats and sheep, but the mechanisms driving the differentiation of several of these shared regions were different between the two species. 

These results have been shared through a press release.

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