Domestic rabbit © Richard Southon
Since rabbits were domesticated relatively recently and in an identifiable location (1,400 years ago in southern France), they make ideal candidates for genetic research.
Scientists from Uppsala University, Sweden, have explored the differences between tame rabbits and their wild genetic neighbours by sequencing the genome of a domestic individual and comparing it with that of its wild cousins.
The researchers discovered that domestication is a result of many small changes in the brain and nervous system, rather than specific domestication genes. A key change is reduction in flight response – pet rabbits face fewer threats.
They also found that tame rabbits rarely completely lose their wild genes, which suggests they could become ‘genetically wild’ again if released.