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The brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) is found wherever humans live and transmits many diseases, and its breeding produced the laboratory rat used widely in medical research. Here, we sequenced whole genomes from 118 rats to explore the origin and dispersal routes of the brown rat and the domestication of the laboratory rat. We showed that brown rats migrated about 3600 years ago from southern East Asia, rather than Northern Asia as formerly suggested, to the Middle East and then to Europe and Africa. Many genes involved in the immune system experienced positive selection in the wild brown rat, while genes involved in the nervous system and energy metabolism showed evidence of artificial selection during the domestication of laboratory strains. Our findings demystify the puzzling origin and migration of brown rats and reveal the impact of evolution and domestication on this animal.

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