a picture of bunny

a picture of bunny

A faulty gene may cause rabbits’ hops to morph into handstands, according to new research. The sauteur d’Alfort, a kind of farmed rabbit, walks unusually. They step on their front paws and shoot their rear legs upwards to rush. That unusual gait might be caused by a mutation in a gene that aids in limb movement. 

Genetics in Rabbits

RORB is the name of the gene. And sauteur d’Alfort rabbits aren’t the only creatures that will adopt an unusual scamper if this gene is mutated. According to Stephanie Koch, mice with a RORB mutation do handstands when they start running. She is a University College London neuroscientist. She had nothing to do with the rabbit work. Koch claims that even when the mice are walking, they raise their rear legs to waddle forward like ducks. 

“I spent four years watching mice perform tiny handstands, and now I get to witness a rabbit do the same handstand,” Koch adds. She lead 2017 research published in Neuron that investigated why mice walk ducklike. “It’s incredible.” 

Understanding why the bunnies move unusually might help researchers understand how the spinal cord functions. According to Leif Andersson, the new study is “contributing to our basic understanding of an essential function in humans, all animals – how we move.” He is a molecular geneticist at Sweden’s Uppsala University. 

In the rabbit investigation, Andersson and his colleagues crossed hop-less sauteur d’Alfort male rabbits with hop-capable New Zealand white female rabbits. The scientists next scanned the offspring’s genetic blueprints. They searched for genetic variations between young rabbits that couldn’t hop and those who could. 

Mutations

A mutation in the RORB gene was identified as a possible cause of the bunnies’ acrobatic handstands. As a very clear result, it appears that there is less RORB protein in particular nerve cells with the mutation than in cells without it. This alteration results in incorrect copies of the genetic instructions that cells employ to produce proteins. 

Interneurons are the spinal cord nerve cells. They aid in the coordination of the left and right sides of the body by transmitting nerve impulses. Interneurons that function correctly are essential for a regular walk or hop, according to Andersson. If the RORB protein is not present in the particular nerve cells, the rabbits may be unable to coordinate what their hind limbs are doing. This limits their capacity to jump. 

Rabbits with the faulty gene may walk properly by alternating their front and hind legs while traveling slowly from place to place. Rabbits, on the other hand, jump to hurry or move great distances. According to research co-author Miguel Carneiro, hopping requires coordinated hind legs to jump. He is a molecular geneticist at Vairo’s Universidade do Porto. 

According to Carneiro, all rabbits with a RORB mutation hurry with their front paws without that synchronization. However, some hop-less rabbits may do a more dramatic handstand than others.