Re-thinking dog domestication

A research team led by the University of Durham has published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).  This study shows that today’s modern breeds of dog have little in common genetically with their ancient ancestors. 

Dog domestication occurred over 15,000 years ago – and there is still much to learn!

Years of cross-breeding are the major influence on the genetic differences, although the researchers are quick to add that other effects on genetic diversity will include patterns of human movement and the impact on dog population sizes caused by major events such as World War I and World War II.

The research team analysed genetic data from 1,375 dogs representing 35 breeds. They also looked at data showing genetic samples of wolves because other research studies have concluded that the dog descended directly from the gray wolf.

Lead author Dr Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist, says the study demonstrated just how much there is still to understand about the early history of dog domestication.  “We really love our dogs and they have accompanied us across every continent.  Ironically, the ubiquity of dogs combined with their deep history has obscured their origins and made it difficult for us to know how dogs became man’s best friend.”

The study also refutes claims of previous researchers that genetic differences in breeds such as the Basenji, Saluki and Dingo were evidence of an ancient heritage.  The Durham team’s study shows that these dogs are genetically different because they were geographically isolated and were not part of the 19th Century Victorian-initiated kennel clubs that blended lineages to create most of today’s breeds.

A Saluki (copyright Keith Dobney)

Source:  University of Durham press release

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