New twist in tale of dogs' origins

December 16, 2015

The origin of dogs has inspired a lingering controversy in academia. Where and when did dogs first split off from wolves? One of the top dogs in this dispute, population genetics expert Peter Savolainen of Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, isn't about to roll over. He hopes his latest research will finally settle the matter.

Some researchers say canines first split off from in the Middle East; others say it happened in Europe. But Savolainen has long held that originated in South East Asia alone, and he says his team has compiled new evidence that confirms his earlier findings.

The study concludes that the split with wolves occuured about 33,000 years ago.

Savolainen's earlier studies were based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA. But recently other researchers have used data from nuclear DNA to refute those findings, arguing that dogs originated in the Middle East, Central Asia or Europe.

But apparently, those researchers were thrown off the scent, according to Savolainen. The data they relied on did not include samples from South East Asia, he says. So if, as Savolainen says, dogs did indeed come from South East Asia, these studies would not have been able to detect it.

"Which is why we analysed the entire nuclear genome of a global sample collection from 46 dogs, which includes samples from southern China and South East Asia," he says. "We then found out that dogs from South East Asia stand out from all other dog populations, because they have the highest genetic diversity and are genetically closest to the wolf."

Savolainen says this provides strong evidence that the dog originated in South East Asia, which confirms his earlier studies of Mitochondrial DNA.

"We also found that the global dog population is based on two important events: the dog and wolf populations first began to split off about 33,000 years ago in South East Asia. The global spread of dogs followed about 18,000 years later.

He says one explanation for the split between dogs and wolves 33,000 years ago could be that the wolf population became divided and the south Chinese wolf developed into dogs. In that case, it is possible the global spread of dogs out of South East Asia is associated with domestication.

"The dog's story thus appears to have begun 33,000 years ago, but the exact path to the fully-domesticated dogs that spread throughout the world 15,000 years ago is not yet clear,"

Savolainen, along with 14 other scientists, recently published the scientific article "Out of Southern East Asia: The Natural History of domestic dogs across the world."

Explore further: Genetic study confirms: First dogs came from East Asia

More information: Guo-Dong Wang et al. Out of southern East Asia: the natural history of domestic dogs across the world, Cell Research (2015). DOI: 10.1038/cr.2015.147

Related Stories

Genetic study confirms: First dogs came from East Asia

November 23, 2011

Researchers at Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology say they have found further proof that the wolf ancestors of today's domesticated dogs can be traced to southern East Asia -- findings that run counter to theories ...

Cradle and birthday of dog identified

September 1, 2009

Previous studies in the field have indicated that East Asia is where the wolf was tamed and became the dog. It was not possible to be more precise than that. But now researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) ...

Recommended for you

Atlas of the RNA universe takes shape

December 7, 2016

As the floor plan of the living world, DNA guides the composition of animals ranging from unicellular organisms to humans. DNA not only helps shepherd every organism from birth through death, it also plays an essential role ...

Gene "bookmarking" regulates the fate of stem cells

December 7, 2016

A protein that stays attached on chromosomes during cell division plays a critical role in determining the type of cell that stem cells can become. The discovery, made by EPFL scientists, has significant implications for ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.