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 Dmitry Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut set out to do just that, by starting with a few dozen silver foxes from Siberian fox farms 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 has been there the whole time, and has been the lead scientist on this work since Belyaev's death in 1985, and with Lee Dugatkin, biologist and science writer, she tells the story of the adventure, science, politics, and love behind it all.
In How to Tame a Fox, Dugatkin and Trut take us inside this path-breaking experiment in the midst of the brutal winters of Siberia to reveal how scientific history is made and continues to be made today.
To date, fifty-six generations of foxes have been domesticated, and we continue to learn significant lessons from them about the genetic and behavioral evolution of domesticated animals. How to Tame a Fox offers an incredible tale of scientists at work, while also celebrating the deep attachments that have brought humans and animals together throughout time.
About the Author
Lee Alan Dugatkin is an evolutionary biologist and historian of science in the department of biology at the University of Louisville.
Lyudmila Trut is a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, in Novosibirsk, Siberia. She has been the lead researcher on the silver fox domestication experiment since 1959.
"Profound insights into how dogs evolved from wolves come from a remarkable, multidecade experiment on foxes that was carried out under the supervision of the Russian geneticist Dmitri Belyaev from the 1950s onward. Because much of the research was published in Russian, How to Tame a Fox, which is cowritten by Lyudmila Trut--a central figure in the project over many decades--will be widely welcomed for the extraordinary detail it contains."
--Tim Flannery "New York Review of Books "
"Our furry companions evidently descended from wild wolves--resulting from thousands of years of human selection. Nearly 60 years ago Russian researchers Trut and Dmitri Belyaev decided to domesticate wild foxes to learn in detail how the journey from wild beast to household pet happens. They set up their experiment on a farm in Siberia and over the following decades mated the tamest animals from each successive generation. In this book, biologist and science writer Dugatkin and Trut recount this grand experiment. The result: a host of docile foxes and the identification of the genetic underpinnings for their domestication."
This intriguing, well-written account of an ongoing experiment in canid domestication should delight readers interested in the origins of the human-animal bond."
"It is an extraordinary story, and How to Tame a Fox tells it well. . . . By the end of the book, the thesis that wolves may have been no less complicit in the process of their domestication than humans has come to seem entirely probable."--Times Literary Supplement
"Written for a general audience, it chronicles the story of a scientific gambit that was more successful that even its creators had dreamed. It's an inspiring reminder of how much we still don't know about the world, and how much can be learned by taking bold chances. It's also a cautionary tale about the risks of state-funded science that has nearly as much relevance to Trump's United States, where federal research budgets are in danger of being slashed right and left, as it does to Stalin's Russia."
--Los Angeles Review of Books
"Written in an accessible style, How to Tame a Fox provides a general reader with an engaging summary of the fox experiments and the people who carried them out. . . . It would make a good book to assign to undergraduate studying the social dimensions of science."
--Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
"Celebrates his [Belyaev's] original insights, his tenacity, and the amazing leadership and hard work by Trut and her dedicated team. . . . Written in a highly accessible style, it is appropriate for both scientists and nonscientists."
--Quarterly Review of Biology
"I have always felt that scientists err in speaking
only about the products of our research and fail to
communicate and discuss the process by which we
create those products. We quite deliberately bury
under the carpet the sources of our hypotheses, the
reasons for our choice of problems to investigate, the
circumstances and constraints under which we
conduct our work and the biases that inevitably creep
into our interpretations. Sadly, the scientific literature
is sanitized to remove all traces of the human, social
and political milieu in which we practice our craft.
This creates an opaque wall between science and
society, leading to avoidable misunderstanding and
mistrust. How to Tame a Fox is the perfect antidote
to this lament. It lays bare all the social and societal
influences that relentlessly work during the course of
scientific research. And yet, contrary to what many
scientists fear, there is not a blemish on the rigour and
precision with which the science is described."
--Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Sciences