Research projects

Prof. Dr. Marcelo Sánchez
Domestication - an evolutionary developmental perspective
June 2016 to December 2020
Funding sources
SNF, Personen- und Projektförderung
Dr. Richard Schneider University of California at San Francisco (USA)
world map
Domestication can create novel phenotypic variation, and selective breeding can produce changes otherwise occurring in geological time. Current studies on domestication concentrate on genomics. However, an ontogenetic perspective that links that approach to the developmental phenotype is also needed to understand the origin of the morphological variation of breeds and landraces not observed in the wild forebears. This project aims at investigating the developmental bases of domestication and will address the following three subjects:
- The morphospace occupation in domesticated mammals and their wild counterparts, using the skull and the inner ear as markers. The study will include new data and analyses of breeds relevant to examine the extremes of morphospace, such as the miniature horse Falabella, with some breeds mirroring human malformations, the ‘chondrodysplastic-like’ ñata cow, and middle white breed pig. The inner ear is a potential new morphological marker of domestication of relevance to zooarcheology.
- The developmental origin of morphological variation in domestication. Here the aim is to test the extent and mode in which developmental repatterning via heterochrony, changes in developmental timing - and modularity, integration and separation of parts, can serve to describe and even explain some of the differences between domesticates and their wild counterparts, and among breeds. Here different windows of ontogeny will be examined: organogenesis, early skeletogenesis, and postnatal growth.
- The role of changes in neural crest development in the origin of the ‘domestication syndrome’, a set of correlated and repeated features across domesticated species. For this, tamed and wild populations of the several species will be compared in their embryology and developmental morphology.
Sánchez-Villagra MR, Segura V, Geiger M, Heck L, Veitschegger K, Flores D (2017) On the lack of a universal pattern associated with mammalian domestication: differences in skull growth trajectories across phylogeny. Royal Society Open Science 4 (10):170876

Geiger M, Evin A, Sánchez-Villagra MR, Gascho D, Mainini C, Zollikofer CPE (2017) Neomorphosis and heterochrony of skull shape in dog domestication. Scientific Reports 7 (1):13443 [doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-12582-2].

Heck L, Clauss M, Sánchez-Villagra MR Do domesticated mammals selected for intensive production have less variable gestation periods? Mammalian Biology [doi: 10.1016/j.mambio.2017.09.004]. (in press)

Heck L, Clauss M, Sánchez-Villagra MR (2017) Gestation length variation in domesticated horses and its relation to breed and body size diversity. Mammalian Biology 84:44-51 [doi: 10.1016/j.mambio.2017.01.002].

Sánchez-Villagra MR, Geiger M, Schneider RA (2016) The taming of the neural crest: a developmental perspective on the origins of morphological covariation in domesticated mammals. Royal Society Open Science 3: 160107 [doi: 10.1098/rsos.160107].

Geiger M, Haussman S (2016) Cranial suture closure in domestic dog breeds and its relationships to skull morphology. The Anatomical Record 299(4):412-420 [doi: 10.1002/ar.23313].

Geiger M, Gendron K, Willmitzer F, Sánchez-Villagra MR (2016) Unaltered sequence of dental, skeletal, and sexual maturity in domestic dogs compared to the wolf. Zoological Letters 2:16 [doi: 10.1186/s40851-016-0055-2].