How cute is your pet? During the domestication process, it may have evolved to become more endearing than its wild ancestors. Household pets have a set of unique characteristics like smaller jaws, more juvenile faces, patches of white fur, and floppy ears. The great scientist Charles Darwin noted the same thing in domesticated animals about 150 years ago. Yet, they couldn’t explain this pattern.

Domestication Syndrome Cat

Domestication syndrome one of the oldest problems in Genetics

But a team of scientists led by Adam Wilkins of the Humboldt University in Berlin has proposed a new theory that explains why domestic animals have a set of characteristics not found in their wild ancestors. According to a study publish in the journal Genetics, researchers said that these cute traits could be attributed to a group of embryonic stem cells called “neural crest.”

Wilkins said in a statement that the domestication syndrome is one of the oldest problems in the field of genetics. The theory says that it applies to the changes in domesticated fish and birds, besides horses, pigs, dogs, cats, sheep and rabbits. Neural crest cells develop near the spinal cord in the embryonic stage of life. In subsequent stages of embryonic development, these cells migrate to various parts of the body. Neural cells create many tissue types including parts of teeth, skull, jaws, ears and adrenal glands. Researchers said that these cells also have indirect effects on brain development.

Scientists are mapping genes altered by domestication syndrome

According to the theory, the development and migration of neural crest cells may be more impaired compared to their wild ancestors. Besides cute characteristics, neural crest deficit may also cause tooth anomalies, white patches on the skin, and malformed ear cartilage. Researchers say all of these are “domestication syndrome.”

This hypothesis is yet to be tested. Meanwhile, other scientists are currently busy mapping genes that have been altered by domestication syndrome.