New research into the genetics of dogs as a species has pinpointed their emergence to 33,000 years ago in China.
Originally descended from gray wolves, domesticated dogs and their initial origins has been the subject of controversy and discussion for centuries. The location of this genetic divergence as well as the timing of the occurrence has been one of the largest mysteries ever attempted to be solved by biologists, and now another attempt has been made to unlock the secret of when man’s best friend earned its stripes – and spots – thanks to the work of population geneticist Peter Savolainen from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.
Savolainen, unlike many of his colleagues who maintain that dogs separated from their wolf ancestors in Europe or in the Middle East, has long argued that the true locale for this event had been the exclusive purview of South East Asia. To that end, he and his research colleagues have uncovered what he feels is definitive proof of his hypotheses. According to the genetics expert’s newly published research study, the most likely inception point for dogs as a separate species is the China of 33,000 years ago, based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA findings.
Other research studies have examined nuclear DNA, finding contrary evidence that dogs arose in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East. However, Savolainen maintains that these studies were barking up the wrong tree so to speak, as the samples used in the research excluded those taken from South East Asia. In other words, if it is indeed true that dogs arose from that particular region of the world the studies in question wouldn’t have been able to detect so, according to the geneticist.
In a press release, Savolainen explained the methods used in the most recent research study, describing how 46 nuclear genome samples – some of which included those from South East Asia and China – were analyzed. The results of the study revealed that dog populations from South East Asia were the most genetically diverse while also being the most similar to the wolf genome. These findings are the basis for the genetics expert’s claims that this region of the world is the true origin of the dog, something that Savolainen’s mitochondrial DNA research results also support.
In addition to discovering that this divergence occurred around 33,000 years ago, the researchers also found that it wasn’t until around 18,000 years after this event that dog populations began to spread across the globe. It’s not yet clear what drove this dog dispersion, but Savolainen suggested that domestication efforts could have aided in the process.
For more information: www.nature.com
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Andre Engels