Scientists discovered a "tameness" gene in the urban fox. Picture: Public Domain Pics

London - The fearless urban foxes that roam cities at night scavenging for food may seem a menacing bunch. 

But they could be far easier to domesticate than we realise – after scientists discovered a "tameness" gene.

Data from Russian researchers who spent decades breeding foxes that enjoy human company was combined with new information from the first complete blueprint of fox DNA to reveal a single gene – known as SorCS1 – linked to social behaviour in foxes.

The tamest foxes in a study group had a version of the gene not found in the more aggressive ones, said University of Illinois scientists in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

According to The Fox website, in Britain, foxes were first established in cities such as Bristol and London during the 1940s. 

Foxes were recorded in Melbourne as early as the 1930s and were widespread in many Australian cities by the 1970s, but in Zurich, Switzerland, urban foxes only appeared during the 1980s.