Spotlight on Science Writers: Lee Dugatkin

Image - spotlight150.pngA select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.

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Lee Dugatkin on How To Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog):

For the last six decades my friend, colleague, and co-author Lyudmila Trut and her colleagues have been running one of the most incredible experiments ever undertaken. The experiment was first thought of by Lyudmila’s mentor, Dmitri Belyaev. It aimed to rerun the evolutionary process that led to the domestication of dogs, but in real time, using the fox as a stand-in for the wolf. Each year for the last fifty-nine years they have been testing hundreds of foxes in Siberia and selecting only the tamest of the tame to parent the subsequent generation. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Their domesticated foxes will lick your faces and melt your hearts with their dog-like devotion and love. What’s more, even though the experimenters select the parents of each generation strictly based on how behaviorally tame foxes are, these domesticated foxes look eerily like dogs, with curly tails, mutt-like fur, puppy-like faces and even, on occasion, floppy ears.

Lyudmila and I hope this book reaches readers from aspiring young scientists-to-be to more seasoned researchers. The six-decade-long study on domesticating foxes in Siberia that we write about has everything from cutting-edge science to political intrigue to human/animal love stories, but perhaps more than anything else, it shows that when smart people with a passion for science pair that with almost super-human perseverance, we can unwrap the mysteries of the world we live in.

Fox pup being pet. Photo courtesy of Lyudmila Trut and the Institute of Cytology and Genetics.

Lee Alan Dugatkin is a professor of biology and distinguished university scholar in the Department of Biology at the University of Louisville. He is a behavioral ecologist and historian of science and his main area of research interest is the evolution of social behavior. Dugatkin has spoken at more than 100 universities worldwide and is the author of more than 150 articles on evolution and behavior. He is a frequent contributor to Scientific American, Psychology Today, and the New Scientist. He is the author of numerous books, including Cooperation Among Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective (Oxford University Press, 1997), The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Princeton University Press, 2006), and Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Lee is also author of two textbooks: Principles of Animal Behavior (W.W. Norton, 3rd edition, 2013) and Evolution (W.W. Norton, 2012, coauthored with Carl Bergstrom).

Lyudmila N. Trut is head of the research group at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics of the Siberian Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in Novosibirsk. She received her doctoral degree in 1980. Her current research interests are the patterns of evolutionary transformations at the early steps of animal domestication. Her research group is developing the problem of domestication as an evolutionary event with the use of experimental models, including the silver fox, the American mink, the river otter, and the wild gray rat.

Their book, How To Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution, won the 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Young Adult category.

Photo Credits: Top: AAron Dugatkin; Bottom: Vasily Kovaly.

Going Further

Related Educator Resources

    • Check back later in the year for a lesson from Science NetLinks to accompany the book How To Tame a Fox.
    • The Charles Darwin and On the Origin of Species collection contains a great deal of information, including lessons on evolutionary theory and natural selection.
    • The Pets: Oh Behave! lesson (6-8) may serve as a good refresher for your students. This lesson helps students develop an understanding of how innate and learned behaviors and the environment determine behavior.
    • Are your students eager to read the cutting edge papers at the forefront of evolutionary resaerch? Science in the Classroom has a whole section of journal articles published about evolution in Science with annotations, activities, and educator guides to help high school students follow along.
    • Science has a section devoted to news and articles about the animal world. The news pieces in particular are accessibly written for a more general audience.
    • Your students may be interested to hear that foxes' loss of territory may have helped lead to the increase in Lyme Disease.


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