August 4, 2009

Study tracks lineage, origins of dogs

African village dogs' lineage can be traced to an ancestral pool of indigenous dogs, a Cornell University-led genetic analysis suggests.

The study of hundreds of semi-feral dogs indicated most village dogs from most African regions were genetically different from non-native breeds and mixed-breed dogs, the university said Tuesday in a news release.

The study, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offered insight into the poorly understood history of dog domestication, researchers said.

The genes of modern breeds all cluster together in one little group, but the African village dogs we sampled show much greater diversity genetically, said lead author Adam Boyko, the paper's senior author and a professor of biological statistics and computational biology.

He said future work could explain the timing and locations of dog domestication and how dogs have adapted to the African environment, human settlements and dietary shifts.

Boyko and his colleagues used a computer program to track genetic diversity in the samples, Cornell University said, finding African village dogs are a hodgepodge of indigenous dogs and non-native, mixed-breed dogs.

An earlier study of village dog genetics confirmed domesticated dogs likely originated from Eurasian wolves, Cornell said. But the African village dogs analyzed revealed similar genetic diversity, which raises doubt about the claim that dogs were first domesticated in East Asia, researchers said.