Aquarium fish helped geneticists clarify the origin of pets

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists are still trying to solve the mystery of what genetic traits allowed the ancestors of domestic animals to become human companions.

And this time, they received one of the answers with the help of a genetically modified fish.

Domestic animals, such as dogs and cows, differ from their wild relatives in a whole range of characteristics that scientists call the domestication syndrome : they include, for example, smaller skulls (and, accordingly, brains), reduced aggressiveness, and pronounced “childish” behavioral traits.

Scientists are looking for the origins of domestication in genetic changes that distinguish between domestic and wild animals, one of which is variation in the BAZ1B gene, which regulates DNA packaging and other genes.

Among other things, this gene in frogs affects the migration of a special type of stem cells called neural crest cells, and these, in turn, have played a significant role in the self -domestication of modern humans.

To test how changes in the BAZ1B gene affect neural crest development and social behavior, scientists at Queen Mary University of London (UK) used a popular live model, the zebrafish , an aquarium fish with 80 percent of its genes shared by humans.

Geneticists blocked the BAZ1B gene in experimental fish, which immediately affected their behavior: such zebrafish showed an increased tendency to interact with representatives of their own species and were less afraid of people.

In addition, the mutant fish showed anatomical differences with their congeners: they developed a protruding forehead and a shorter muzzle, which gave the head of the fish a “childish” look.

Considering that a slight underdevelopment of the neural crest could be seen in the mutant fish at the embryonic stage, it can be assumed that this or a similar mutation is associated with behavioral and morphological changes that have occurred in humans and domestic animals.

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