DNA Analysis Indicates Domesticated Dogs Originated In Europe
November 15, 2013

DNA Analysis Indicates Domesticated Dogs Originated In Europe

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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An extensive genetic analysis of ancient canines, modern dogs and wolves suggests that the domesticated animal now known as “man’s best friend” originated in Europe at least 18,000 years ago.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the researchers examined the DNA of 18 different wolf-like and dog-like specimens that lived in Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the US up to 36,000 years ago.

“They compared the genetic material to modern samples from 49 wolves from North America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, 77 dogs of a wide variety of breeds including cocker spaniel, basenji and golden retriever, and four coyotes,” the wire service added. The researchers discovered that the DNA of modern canines “showed similarities to the genetic material from the ancient European specimens and modern-day European wolves.”

“We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them,” stated Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA and senior author of the research paper appearing in the latest edition of the journal Science. “This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found.”

Previous research had suggested that modern-day dog breeds could trace their origins back to wolves that had become ingrained into human societies in the Middle East and Eastern Asia approximately 15,000 years ago, wrote BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos. The issue with those assertions is the discovery of 30,000-plus-year-old fossils belonging to creatures that bear a striking resemblance to canines.

So Wayne and his colleagues set out to re-examine the evidence. They analyzed the DNA of 10 ancient wolf-like creatures and eight dog-like animals, most of which were from Europe and all of which were between 1,000 and 30,000 years old. That data was compared to 77 mitochondrial genomes from modern dogs originating from all over the world, as well as from 49 wolves and four coyotes, and the researchers determined that domestic canines were genetically grouped with ancient wolves or dogs originating from Europe.

Furthermore, Amos noted, since the dog remains used by the research team are dated up to 18,000 years ago, their findings indicate that domestication occurred far earlier than some experts had previously claimed. Provided their conclusions are accurate, the study would seem to suggest that dogs began to split from their wolf predecessors while humans were still hunter-gatherers, and before they settled down into agricultural communities.

“The wolf is the first domesticated species and the only large carnivore humans ever domesticated,” Wayne said. “This always seemed odd to me. Other wild species were domesticated in association with the development of agriculture and then needed to exist in close proximity to humans. This would be a difficult position for a large, aggressive predator."

"But if domestication occurred in association with hunter-gatherers, one can imagine wolves first taking advantage of the carcasses that humans left behind – a natural role for any large carnivore – and then over time moving more closely into the human niche through a co-evolutionary process,” he added.

Peter Savolainen, an associate professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and one of the researchers involved with a 2002 study claiming that modern dogs originated from southern China, explained to AFP writer Kerry Sheridan that his findings challenge those from the current study.

“Our data points to origins in China and I am still pretty sure that is the place,” Savolainen, pointing out that the new research failed to include samples from some parts of the world, including China and the Middle East. “If you are looking for the origins of dogs and you only have samples from Europe, then of course it must be Europe.”