A group of Russian and foreign scientists, including researchers from St Petersburg University, explained the famous experiment on the domestication of silver foxes by Dmitry Belyaev with the help of decoding the genome.

The specialists managed to establish which genes are responsible for the friendly attitude towards men. The results of the study are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

It is to be recalled, in the middle of the last century, Academician Dmitry Belyaev conducted a large-scale experiment on the domestication of silver foxes. The famous Soviet scientist put his hand into the cage in a protective glove and watched the behaviour of the animals. Further, the academician selected foxes who calmly reacted to the presence of a person, and crossed them among themselves. Thus, Academician Belyaev managed to create a whole population that looks like dogs: foxes with drooping ears, a tail twisted like a hook, and light spots on the skin.

«Belyayev’s domestic foxes represent one of the most ambitious experiments in the history of biology. It is important to analyse the DNA sequence of these animals in order to find causal factors of their behaviour» said Stefan O’Brien, one of the authors of the study and the head of the Centre for Genomic Bioinformatics named after Feodosy Dobrzhansky of St Petersburg University.

Today, thanks to the development of genome sequencing technologies, scientists are able to explain the behaviour of domestic foxes in terms of genetics. The researchers sequenced the DNA of manual, aggressive and normal, farm-raised individuals.

As a result, scientists have identified 103 DNA fragments that differed in the representatives of different groups.

Specialists came to the conclusion that the mutation in the SorCS1 gene is responsible for the friendly character of the Belyaev foxes. So, individuals with one type of mutation are the quietest, and the carriers of other mutations on this site, on the contrary, are aggressive and avoid contact with people.

The analysis of the genome sequence has been performed by a group of researchers led by an international team of scientists from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Centre for Genomic Bioinformatics of the St Petersburg University named after Feodosy Dobrzhansky, the University of