The European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, originated in the Iberian peninsula and is the precursor of all domestic rabbits. Humans have been hunting and eating the European rabbit for over 120,000 years, but the rabbit was only domesticated in the year 600 AD. It is thought that Pope Gregory’s declaration that rabbits did not count as meat, and could be eaten during Lent, was what spurred French monks to domesticate the rabbit at that time. Today, there are over 100 purebred breeds of rabbit worldwide, which have been bred for meat, for fur, as pets, and for use in biomedical research. The rabbit has proved to be an invaluable model in immunological research, including both immunogenetics and the study of infectious disease. It is also an important model for the processes of speciation and domestication.
The Broad Institute has completed a deep coverage (7x) draft of the rabbit genome. The rabbit genome project will not only greatly aid the study of immunology, and biomedical research in general, but will also help with the annotation of the human genome.