The “Domestication Syndrome” in Mammals: A Unified Explanation Based on Neural Crest Cell Behavior and Genetics
Adam S. Wilkins, Richard W. Wrangham, W. Tecumseh Fitch

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Abstract

Charles Darwin, while trying to devise a general theory of heredity from the observations of animal and plant breeders, discovered that domesticated mammals possess a distinctive and unusual suite of heritable traits not seen in their wild progenitors. Some of these traits also appear in domesticated birds and fish. The origin of Darwin’s “domestication syndrome” has remained a conundrum for more than 140 years. Most explanations focus on particular traits, while neglecting others, or on the possible selective factors involved in domestication rather than the underlying developmental and genetic causes of these traits. Here, we propose that the domestication syndrome results predominantly from mild neural crest cell deficits during embryonic development. Most of the modified traits, both morphological and physiological, can be readily explained as direct consequences of such deficiencies, while other traits are explicable as indirect consequences. We first show how the hypothesis can account for the multiple, apparently unrelated traits of the syndrome and then explore its genetic dimensions and predictions, reviewing the available genetic evidence. The article concludes with a brief discussion of some genetic and developmental questions raised by the idea, along with specific predictions and experimental tests.

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