A millennia-old canine DNA has triggered a new twist in the debate over the origin of dogs. According to a new study, wolves were domesticated by European hunter-gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually they evolved into dogs that became household pets.
Senior author, Prof Robert Wayne, said, “We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them. This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found.”
Wayne is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in University of California.
In related research last May, Wayne and his colleagues reported at the Biology of Genomes meeting in New York.
Recently in May, Wayne and his fellow researchers have presented a comparison of the complete nuclear genomes of three recent wolf breeds from the Middle East, East Asia and Europe, two ancient dog breeds and the boxer dog breed. The presentation was made at the Biology of Genomes meeting in New York.
“We analyzed those six genomes with cutting-edge approaches and found that none of those wolf populations seemed to be closest to domestic dogs,” Wayne said while adding, “We thought one of them would be, because they represent wolves from the three possible centers of dog domestication, but none was. All the wolves formed their own group, and all the dogs formed another group.”
For the current study, the researchers studied 10 ancient “wolf-like” animals and eight “dog-like” animals, mostly from Europe.
These animals were all more than 1,000 years old, most were thousands of years old, and two were more than 30,000 years old. The biologists studied the mitochondrial DNA of the animals, which is abundant in ancient remains.
While comparing the ancient mitochondrial DNA with the modern mitochondrial genomes of 77 domestic dogs, 49 wolves and four coyotes, the researchers concluded that the domestic dogs were genetically grouped with ancient wolves or dogs from Europe – not with wolves found anywhere else in the world or even with modern European wolves. They estimated that dogs were domesticated between 18,000 and 32,000 years ago.
The researchers said that dogs derived from ancient wolves that inhabited Europe and are now extinct.
The study was published in journal Science.