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Genetic Mutation Causing Rabbits To Do Handstands Instead Of Hopping: New Study Reveals

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Rabbit doing a handstand. Strange? Funny? Not anymore, now we know the scientific reason behind this unexpected behavior by bunnies.

According to recent research, these rabbits are not doing handstands just out of the blue. It is because of genetic mutation.

Front paw walking rabbits are quite popular. They belong to a French breed called ‘sauteur d’Alfort’. When translated to English ‘sauteur d’Alfort’ means ‘Alfort jumping rabbits’. The reason for this phenomenon was unknown until recently.

The Research

The research was published on 25th March 2021, in PLOS Genetics. It investigated the cause of sauteur d’Alfort, keeping its back legs in the air and walking on its front paws. The result suggests a gene-tied limb movement.

The mutation in a gene called ‘RORB’ is the decisive factor in this study. Limb coordination is dependent on this gene. Therefore, the research provides substantial pieces of evidence proving that the mutation of this gene is not allowing these bunnies to do what is natural. Which is to hop.

Stephanie Koch, a neuroscientist at University College London, has an interesting point of view adding to this study, although, she wasn’t involved in this research. She said that Mice with a similar gene mutation also do handstands when they start running. And even while walking, the mice hike their back legs up to waddle forward, almost like a duck.

“I spent four years looking at these mice doing little handstands, and now I get to see a rabbit do the same handstand,” says Stephanie Koch. She led a similar study in 2017, which was published in the neuron. It was titled ‘the mechanism behind the “duck gait” in mice.’

In simple terms, the crux of the matter is this mutated gene is causing discoordination in the spinal cord, ultimately, preventing the rabbits from hopping.

 Useful Findings

The legs of rabbits are pretty much exceptional, they’re strong, shaped, and quite flexible, allowing them to take a leap with single a push. It is known that normal rabbits can walk if they’re slow in speed, but it’s unnatural and they prefer hopping.

Interestingly, the study didn’t reveal how the lack of RORB protein in the spinal cord cell is causing this phenomenon.

Koch says. “All they’re looking for is that mutation in one gene and how that gene is affecting the spinal cord, but it could be affecting everything in the rabbit. We have no idea.”

Microbiologist Erin Garcia de Jesús says that uncovering these genetic abnormalities will help us in understanding the functioning of animal bodies.

It is impossible for human beings to run without harmonized movements of our limbs. Leif Andersson, a molecular geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden, led this study with a team and gave us an interesting analogy.

“If you look at the 100-meter sprint — Usain Bolt or someone like that — there’s super coordination between limbs,” Andersson says. “If you lack the coordination between arms and legs… you could never compete for a gold medal.”

However, hopping or handstands, bunnies still remain one of the most adorable creatures on the planet.

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