Laboratory of Evolunionary Genetics of Animals
Head A.L.Markel, Dr.Biol.Sci.
A fox of the domesticated population
Preimplantation embryos of rat and ermine
Offspring obtained after transfer of embryos from domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) to European polecat (Mustela putorius)
A genetic model of stress-sensitive arterial hypertension, ISIAH rat strain.
The Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics of Animals and the Institute of Cytology and Genetics have been founded almost at the same time in 1958. The Laboratory was headed by Prof. D.K.Belyaev who was appointed later as director of the Institute and elected a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Prof. D.K.Belyaev served as director to 1985, the year of his death. The eminent geneticist and evolutionist Prof. D.K.Belyaev has generalized his views in the concept of destabilizing selection and the hypothesis of the evolutionary role of stress as a factor of mobilizing of genetic variability. Evidence in support of his hypothesis is increasing. At the Laboratory current research is performed along Belyaev's lines. The lines include:
1. Experimental studies on domestication as a model of evolution.
The role of stress in evolution. Unique populations of domestic silver fox, mink, ermine and Norway rat were developed through long-term selection for behavior. The behavioral, physiological and morphological effects of behavior-vectorized selection was demonstrated. Under this selection, strongest pressure acts on the genetic systems of behavior and stress that are critical for the regulation of development. The effects of domestication on the hormonal and regulatory systems are under thorough analysis. Many-year experiments were done and, more recently, a model of a population of Norway rat was developed to investigate the role of stress in the selection process. Intensive selection for behavior during domestication was found to involve the neuroendocrine system regulating the stress response. The mechanisms of the formation of wide hereditary diversity thought to be due to selection for stress reactivity are under study. The effects of stress as a factor that mobilizes genetic variability are also under study in experiments on strains and hybrid populations of laboratory rodents.
2. The genetic determination of the stress response.
Genetic determination of the main links of the stress system is studied on strains and hybrid populations of laboratory rats and mice. The stress system is examined at different functional levels: the organism (behavior), the system (the neuroendocrine system, the visceral responses) and the genome (the expression and polymorphism of the genes coding for stress proteins, peptide hormones and enzymes involved in hormones and catecholamines biosynthesis).
3. The role of early stimulation during prenatal and postnatal life on developmental, physiological and behavioral characteristics.
Studies are mainly performed on the mammalian preimplantation embryo. Changes in the maternal environment, such as those caused by modern techniques, e.g. embryo transfer, cryopreservation or hormonal exposure, give rise both to short-term effects interfering with embryonic development and remote effects manifested later. Possibilities of the application embryotechnologies to the conservation of endangered species are also explored.
4. Development and study of genetic animal models of human pathologies.
Genetic models of pathological conditions, e.g. hypertension (ISIAH rat strain) and tentative schizophrenic psychopathology (rat strain GC), were developed through selection under provocative conditions of emotional stress. A rat strain bred for enhancement and absence of "pendulum movement", a stereotyped hyperkinesis of unknown nature widespread among rodents, whose human counterpart has not been found, (PM+) and a control rat strain (PM-) were developed. These strains are used for studying the genetic and physiological mechanisms of human pathology in collaboration with the Laboratores of the Genetic Basis of Endocrine Regulation and the Laboratory Genome Structure. Ways for correcting of hereditary deviations of behavior are searched jointly with the Laboratory of the Genetic Basis of Endocrine Regulation.