MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Can a chinchilla and a rabbit have offspring if mated to one another?

Date: Wed Sep 6 20:36:12 2000
Posted By: Jennifer Phillips, Grad student, Developmental Genetics/Biology, University of Oregon
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 967593179.Ge

Hi Louise,

Thanks for your question! The short answer is no. Rabbits and chinchillas can't have offspring together. "Why not?" you may ask. Well, it all boils down to genetics and evolution. Although the rabbit and the chinchilla do look very similar, they are not really very close relatives. They are both mammals, and so had a common mammalian ancestor millions of years ago, but they are classified into two distinct groups today. The chinchilla is a rodent, in the the same large group as mice, rats, gophers, guinea pigs, etc. The rabbit, on the other hand, is what's known as a lagomorph, and belongs to a small group which also includes the hare and the pika. To give you an idea of how distantly related these two groups are, it would be like comparing a human (or any other primate) to a tree shrew! If you would like to see an example of a mammalian family tree (called a phylogeny), you can check one out at: The Tree of Life

Anyway, all these millions of years of evolution have resulted in the rabbit and the chinchilla having a very different genetic makeup, and since genes are so important to the reproductive process, this makes a mating between the two species impossible. In order for a mating to be successful, the male sex cell, or gamete, called a sperm, must fertilize the female gamete (egg). In mammals, as well as many other animals, numerous safeguards exist to prevent eggs from being accidentally fertilized by the sperm of a different species, so it's doubtful that the rabbit sperm would be able to enter the chinchilla egg, or vice-versa. Moreover, in a normal mating, the DNA brought in by the sperm combines with the DNA already in the egg, and serves as the genetic blueprint for making a new organism. For example, humans inherit 23 chromosomes from each parent, giving them a combined total of 46 (23 pairs). Different species have different numbers of chromosomes, but as you might imagine, it's very important to inherit the same number of chromosomes from both parents. Rabbits have a total of 44 chromosomes (22 pairs), while chinchillas have a whopping 64 chromosomes (32 pairs). All of that extra, unpaired DNA could cause big problems if a rabbit gamete and a chinchilla gamete ever managed to somehow get together. The cells of this new "rabchilla" organism would not be able to divide properly, and embryonic development would arrest very quickly.

You may have heard of more successful examples of interspecies breeding, such as the mule (a cross between a male donkey and a female horse--two different Equine species). This mating works because the horse and the donkey are pretty close relatives, and even though the horse has one more pair of chromosomes (total = 64) than the donkey (total = 62), their genes are able to work together to create a live offspring. It's not a perfect combination, however, and mules are usually sterile as a result.

By the way, if you would like to learn a little more about embryonic development, you can start by visiting the following website:

This is probably more information than you bargained for, but I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to contact me again if you have any further questions--I'd be glad to help!



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