Rabbits ‘standing on their hands’ help find bouncing genes: Featured research

Genetics

A rare species of acrobatic rabbit allows a huge leap in scientists ’knowledge of mammalian movements.

An unusual rabbit walking on its front legs revealed genetic secrets behind the ability of other rabbits to jump.

The sauteur d’Alfort is a rare breed of rabbit that walks on its front paws, with its hind legs in the air. To find out why these bunnies can’t jump, Miguel Carneiro of the University of Porto in Portugal, Leif Andersson of the University of Uppsala in Sweden and their colleagues spawned sauteur d’Alfort with a standard rabbit that can jump and sequenced the genome of 52 grandchildren of the pair.

Baby rabbits that could not jump, the researchers found, had one mutation in both copies of a gene called RORB. These animals also had fewer neurons that express the RORB protein in the spinal cord, which probably interfered with the movement of the hind limbs.

Previous studies have shown that mice with RORB mutations flutter like ducks, suggesting to researchers that RORB is necessary for the normal development and movement of the spinal cord in four-legged animals.

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