Where Do Dogs Come From? DNA Study Says It's the Middle East
Locked deep in the DNA of man's best friend are secrets and clues that have teased scientists for years, ever since the discovery that dogs evolved from wolves long, long ago. But when, where and how did it happen? It's an ancient puzzle that experts are still trying to piece together, with intriguing results.
Just last week, an international team of researchers announced they had finally figured out where in the world dogs first originated: the Middle East, though they can't pinpoint a more specific location. "Dogs seem to share more genetic similarity with Middle Eastern gray wolves than with any other wolf population worldwide," one of the study's lead authors, Robert Wayne, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) tells Science Daily. "We know that dogs from the Middle East were closely associated with humans because they were found in ancient human burial sites," Wayne is quoted as saying. "In one case, a puppy is curled up in the arms of a buried human."
The study also found that while "80 percent of today's modern breeds evolved in the last few hundred years, some dog breeds have ancient histories that go back thousands of years," reports Science Daily. According to the study's authors, these ancient breeds include the "basenji, Afghan hound, Samoyed, saluki, Canaan dog, New Guinea singing dog, dingo, chow chow, Chinese Shar Pei, Akita, Alaskan malamute, Siberian husky and American Eskimo dog."
Wayne and his team reached the conclusion about the Middle Eastern origin of dogs after analyzing genetic data from 912 dogs representing 85 different breeds, as well as 225 gray wolves from all over the world. Advanced molecular genetic techniques allowed the scientists to analyze more than 48,000 genetic markers, which was a first in the scientific community, reports Science Daily.
It's a finding that conflicts with a study published last year by a different group of scientists that found dogs originated some 16,000 years ago in China, just south of the Yangtze River. Led by Peter Savolainen, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, the study was based upon an analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of dogs, a very different method than the one used by Wayne and his team. Savolainen disputes the research that places the origin of dogs solely in the Middle East, but Wayne disputes that it's East Asia.
"I hope it doesn't become a big fight," Wayne told reporters. After all, there are other mysteries yet to be solved. Scientists still don't know exactly how some wolves became domesticated, eventually leading to canis familiaris.