August 25, 2022
At Genome BC, we love our dogs. Our fur family includes London, Scarlett, Ciroc, Gruber and others. While they all look and act differently, their genetic origins as domesticated dogs have one thing in common. They are descendants of gray wolves (Canis lupus).
Until recently, the moment when dogs diverged from their wolf-adjacent ancestors and became friendly pups (Canis familiaris) that sit at our feet was hotly contested.
Previous studies used archaeological records and compared the DNA of modern dogs and wolves but couldn’t make any headway in unlocking this puzzle. Then scientists from the Francis Crick Institute turned to ancient DNA to find the answer
Taking a trip back in time
They took samples spanning the last 100,000 years from Europe, Siberia and North America and analyzed 72 ancient wolf genomes. The study included samples from recent finds, like the almost perfectly preserved cub Dogor, locked for 18,000 years in the Siberian permafrost, and the 32,000-year-old head of a wolf, also from the Siberian permafrost. The researchers then compared these 72 ancient genomes against 68 new reference samples taken from modern wolves, dogs and coyotes.
There are so nice they may have evolved (twice)
An analysis of their DNA revealed a shocking discovery. Researchers found that modern dogs derive their ancestry from two different ancient wolf populations, one in Asia and another in the Middle East or surrounding areas.
Until this research was conducted, this secondary ancient wolf population was previously unknown, and they also found something very intriguing.
Most modern-day dogs are more closely related to ancient wolves in Asia than those in Europe. However, researchers did find that modern village dogs in Africa and those in the Middle East — as well as breeds that originated in those regions, such as the Basenji — still have DNA that can be traced back to this second wolf population.
Wolves in the wild
The researchers also found that ancient wolves living in far-flung locations were highly genetically similar — more closely related than wolf populations today — indicating extensive movement and interbreeding between wolves across the globe. The scientists posit that this global population might explain how the species survived the end of the last Ice Age.
Why is this important?
This study raises the bar of our knowledge of dog domestication and wolf population dynamics. Critically, this research allowed scientists to track natural selection over 100,000 years, letting us see evolution play out in real-time.
Thoughts from our office dogs
All our office dogs agree. They can’t wait to learn more about what subsequent research will reveal about this second lineage.
The research has been published in Nature.
Source: A new study unlocks secrets of dog domestication