The MUC6 gene codes for a protein found in the lining of the gut. In other animals, it is part of the immune defense system. To see whether it could protect against parasites, the researchers checked the stools of goats carrying either the tur version of MUC6 or another version found in a few domestic goats for nematode worm eggs. There were far fewer eggs in the stool of the goats with the tur ver- sion, suggesting that version is protective, the researchers report. It makes sense that the tur version of this gene would better fight parasites, Jiang says. The tur lives near the coast of the Black Sea, where the warm, wet climate likely fostered more pathogens than goats’ original home in the drier regions of southwest Asia. Some researchers think the most important traits for domesti- cation have to do with physical appearance or economically valu- able qualities such as milk production. But this study suggests breeding livestock that could survive in crowded conditions — where diseases are more likely — was more critical in the early years, Jiang says. Because of the advantage provided by the tur ver- sion of MUC6, it spread to 60% of the domesticated goats within 1,000 years — a speed of spread that previously had been “unimag- inable,” Jiang notes. “It proved the extreme desire of people to ac- quire healthy animals.”

In addition to MUC6, the team found other genes in domestic goats that came from other wild goats about the same time 7,200 years ago. These genes — possibly linked to behavior — may have made the goats more docile, Jiang says. But the researchers need to test that idea.

The paper shows domestication was a dynamic process with genes from other species being gained and lost through the millen- nia, Zeder says. “It’s not a ‘one and done,’” she explains. “The abil- ity to have the uptake of new genes better enabled them to adapt.”

(Elizabeth Pennisi is a senior correspondent covering many as- pects of biology for Science magazine.)

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September 2020 | Goat Rancher 11

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