They find the reason why some rabbits do a handstand instead of jumping

Image of a sauteur d’Alfort doing a handstand SAMUEL BOUCHER

Why would a rabbit make a handstand? Under normal conditions, rabbits jump, they don’t do a handstand, they don’t stand on their front legs to run. And yet some rabbits do just this. Why?

By the looks of it, because it has a faulty gene. A mutation in a single gene makes rabbits, instead of jumping, try to run doing a handstand. If there are defective copies of the RORB gene, rabbits do a headstand when they try to run.

And this fact, in addition to how curious and interesting it may seem, can help explain how movement works in animals, and even how mobility problems could be solved.

The RORB gene produces a protein that is also called RORB – this is generally the case for all genes, it is not something particular in this case. This RORB protein appears in cells of the nervous system, and appears to be involved in the coordination of movements between the extremities.

And it shows when rabbits try to run. It is the same with humans, and with almost any vertebrate. If we look closely, when we walk we need less coordination between the four “legs”. But when running, especially if we want to do it with speed, we need the movements of the legs and arms – back and front legs – to work in a coordinated way.

The rabbits that do a handstand – there are a variety of breeding rabbits called sauteur d’Alfort that are known for this – do not coordinate the movement of the hind and front legs. By not producing the RORB protein, do not match the movements of the limbs, and the result is the curious to walk, to call it something, that these rabbits have.

For now scientists are studying how the lack of RORB protein affects the spinal cord, which is where coordination of movements occurs. But it is possible that the problem that causes the lack of this nervous component be broader.

And in any case, learning about the way the limbs are coordinated can have medical implications. It is still too early to know, but it could help people with mobility problems to regain some of their mobility.

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For now, this study has already given us the image of rabbits doing a handstand

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