The silk road to epigenetics: the driving forces behind silkworm domestication
Silkworms are under the spotlight after the publication of a study where epigenetic modifications are compared between wild and domesticated varieties. This work unravels the mechanisms that led to the domestication of silkworms and the improvements in silk production about 5000 years ago in China.
The domesticated silkworm has been artificially selected to produce more and better silk, the luxurious product that is so valued worldwide. It has been estimated that silk production has increased up to tenfold with sericulture (the breeding of silkworms for the harvesting of silk, also known as silk farming). For example, the domesticated variety shows nowadays a series of human-preferred traits such as faster growth, bigger cocoons and increased resistance to disease than the wild variety. Silk production is of great economical importance, especially in rural areas of the main producing countries, China and India, and research in these animals is expected to lead to an important increase in revenues. In addition, these are good model organisms for studies in invertebrates, as they easy to breed and have fast growth. Now, a team comprising scientists from various Institutes in China has asked the question: which are the main differences found in domesticated silkworms, apart from genetic divergences, that contribute to their particular characteristics?