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Does new research finally settle where dogs come from?

By Brooks Hays
Does new research finally settle where dogs come from?
New research purports to confirm the origin story of dogs. File photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Geneticist Peter Savolainen believes his latest research will finally settle the debate about where dogs originated.

Mostly, researchers have argued over whether dogs first split from wolves in Europe or the Middle East. A few say they first came into their own in Central Asia.

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But Savolainen says his latest analysis confirms what he's been asserting for some time -- that dogs were born in Southeast Asia, and Southeast Asia alone.

The claim has previously been refuted by follow-up studies, but those studies analyzed nuclear DNA, while Savolainen has mostly analyzed mitochondrial DNA. He says the studies claiming to refute his earlier work failed to actually look at canine genomes from Southeast Asia.

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Had they done so, they would have found what he's found. Savolainen repeated the work of those nuclear DNA studies, but included samples from Southeast Asia.

"We analyzed the entire nuclear genome of a global sample collection from 46 dogs, which includes samples from southern China and South East Asia," Savolainen, a researcher Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, said in a recent press release. "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."

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The new work shows not only where dogs come from, but when they first emerged as separate from wolves.

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"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," Savolainen explained. "The global spread of dogs followed about 18,000 years later."

Savolainen says his latest findings, published in the journal Cell Research, only settle part of the debate. It's clear where the dog's evolutionary journey begins, but how and where dogs first became domesticated several thousand years later remains unsettled.

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