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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

December 5, 2011

Origins of the Domestic Dog Discovered

By David Alderton


Researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm reported they have found further proof that the wolf ancestors of today’s domesticated dogs can be traced to South East Asia—findings that run counter to alternate theories placing the cradle of the canine line in the Middle East.

Dr. Peter Savolainen, KTH researcher in evolutionary genetics, stated in a new study that an Asian region south of the Yangtze River was the main and probably only region where wolves were domesticated by humans. Data on genetics, morphology and behavior show clearly that dogs are descended from wolves, but there has never been scientific consensus on where in the world the domestication process began.

"Our analysis of Y-chromosomal DNA now confirms that wolves were first domesticated in Asia south of Yangtze River—we call it the ASY region—in southern China or Southeast Asia,” Savolainen said.

Dog origins
Researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology reported their genetic studies provide "very strong evidence” that wolves were first domesticated in southern East Asia. ©Ya-ping Zhang
The Y data supports previous evidence from mitochondrial DNA.
"Taken together, the two studies provide very strong evidence that dogs originated in the ASY region,” he added.

Archaeological data and a recent genetic study had suggested that domestic dogs originated from the Middle East but Savolainen rejected this view.

"Because none of these studies included samples from the ASY region, evidence from ASY has been overlooked,” he argued.

Tracing Back Their Roots
Peter Savolainen and Ph.D student Mattias Oskarsson worked with Chinese colleagues to analyze DNA from male dogs around the world. Approximately half of the gene pool was universally shared everywhere in the world, but only the ASY region displayed the entire range of genetic diversity.

"This shows that gene pools in all other regions of the world most probably originate from the ASY region,” Savolainen said. "Our results confirm that Asia south of the Yangtze River was the most important—and probably the only—region for wolf domestication, and that a large number of wolves were domesticated.”

Middle Eastern Studies
In separate research, Savolainen, Ph.D student Arman Ardalan and Iranian and Turkish scientists had previously conducted a comprehensive study of mitochondrial DNA, with a particular focus on the Middle East. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother in most species, making it especially useful in studying evolutionary relationships.

"Since other studies have indicated that wolves were domesticated in the Middle East, we wanted to be sure nothing had been missed, Savolainen said. "We found no signs whatsoever from our investigations that dogs originated there.”

In their studies, the researchers also found minor genetic contributions from crossbreeding between dogs and wolves in other geographic regions, including the Middle East. But according to Savolainen, this subsequent dog/wolf hybridization made only a modest contribution to the canine gene pool.

Z-L Ding, M Oskarsson, A Ardalan, H Angleby, L-G Dahlgren, C Tepeli, E Kirkness, P Savolainen and Y-P Zhang, "Origins of domestic dog in Southern East Asia is supported by analysis of Y-chromosome DNA,” Heredity advance online publication doi: 10.1038/hdy.2011.114.

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