Wednesday, March 17, 2010

genetic analysis suggests Middle Eastern origin for dogs

I found this article interesting, as it discusses a new article in Nature about the origins of domestic dogs. Previous research on mtDNA had suggested an East Asian origin for domestic dogs. (Contrary to what it says in the article, this is perfectly in line with the archaeological record, and an early East Asian domestication event has been proposed since Stanley Olsen's pioneering zooarchaeology work.) The new SNP analysis described in this article, however, suggests that most modern dogs have a stronger affinity to the Middle Eastern wolf. Since our earliest examples of Middle Eastern dogs come from the Natufian (only around 12kya), and we have much earlier examples from central Asia, I'm a bit surprised. Still, absence of evidence, etc., etc. It wouldn't be shocking if we just haven't found the early dogs, yet.

Another comment - the article mentions that a few East Asian breeds show greater genetic similarities to East Asian wolves, rather than Middle Eastern. This suggests multiple domestication events, which is not at all an unlikely scenario. After all, the East Asian and Middle Eastern wolves are not separate species, in the classic sense; they can produce viable and fertile offspring together. For that matter, wolves and dogs are not separate species, so we shouldn't be too shocked to find that domestication occurred in multiple places.

One thing I would like to see is a comparison of modern dogs to New World wolves. Was there an influx of DNA from New World wolves into domestic dogs that entered with the first human colonists? Is it possible that we could see independent domestication in the Americas as well?

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