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2018 Winner: Young Adult Science Book

How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution, by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Tucked away in Siberia, there are furry, four-legged creatures with wagging tails and floppy ears that are as docile and friendly as any lapdog. But, despite appearances, these are not dogs — they are foxes. They are the result of the most astonishing experiment in breeding ever undertaken — imagine speeding up thousands of years of evolution into a few decades. In 1959, biologists Dmitri Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut set out to do just that, by starting with a few dozen silver foxes from fox farms during the Soviet era and attempting to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time in order to witness the process of domestication. This is the extraordinary, untold story of this remarkable undertaking. Most accounts of the natural evolution of wolves place it over a span of about 15,000 years, but within a decade, Belyaev and Trut’s fox breeding experiments had resulted in puppy-like foxes with floppy ears, piebald spots, and curly tails. Along with these physical changes came genetic and behavioral changes, as well. The foxes were bred using selection criteria for tameness and with each generation, they became increasingly interested in human companionship. Trut, lead scientist on the project, and biologist and science writer Dugatkin, tell the story of the adventure, science, politics, and love behind it all.

 


About the Authors

Lee Alan Dugatkin is a professor of biology and distinguished university scholar in the Department of Biology at the University of Louisville. He is a behavioral ecologist and historian of science and his main area of research interest is the evolution of social behavior. Dugatkin has spoken at more than 100 universities worldwide and is the author of more than 150 articles on evolution and behavior. He is a frequent contributor to Scientific American, Psychology Today, and the New Scientist. He is the author of numerous books, including Cooperation Among Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1997), The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Princeton University Press, 2006), and Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Lee is also author of two textbooks: Principles of Animal Behavior (W.W. Norton, 3rd edition, 2013) and Evolution (W.W. Norton, 2012, coauthored with Carl Bergstrom).

Lyudmila N. Trut is head of the research group at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Novosibirsk. She received her doctoral degree in 1980. Her current research interests are the patterns of evolutionary transformations at the early steps of animal domestication. Her research group is developing the problem of domestication as an evolutionary event with the use of experimental models, including the silver fox, the American mink, the river otter, and the wild gray rat.