According to a study that examined DNA from 72 ancient wolves dating back 100,000 years, modern dogs have ancestors from wolves in Asia and Europe.

The study included "Dogor," an 18,000-year-old wolf puppy.Fedorov, Sergey
                                   The study included “Dogor,” an 18,000-year-old wolf puppy. Fedorov, Sergey

Dogs are thought to be descended from Eurasian grey wolves (Canis lupus lupus), but when and where they were domesticated remain unknown.

Anders Bergstrom of the Francis Crick Institute in London and his colleagues examined the DNA of 72 ancient wolves found in Europe, Siberia, and North America, some of which were up to 100,000 years old.

The DNA of these ancient wolves was sequenced and compared to the genome of modern dogs by researchers. They wanted to see if any of the wolves were more closely related to modern dogs than others.

Finding an ancient wolf that is closely related to a modern dog would help researchers determine when dogs evolved. “This is one of the most important questions in human prehistory,” Bergstrom says.

In this study, he and his colleagues did not find such a wolf, but they did discover that modern dogs were more genetically similar to ancient wolves in Asia than to European wolves.

The DNA of these ancient wolves was sequenced and compared to the genome of modern dogs by researchers. They wanted to see if any of the wolves were more closely related to modern dogs than others.

Finding an ancient wolf that is closely related to a modern dog would help researchers determine when dogs evolved. “This is one of the most important questions in human prehistory,” Bergstrom says.

In this study, he and his colleagues did not find such a wolf, but they did discover that modern dogs were more genetically similar to ancient wolves in Asia than to European wolves.

Bergstrom claims they can’t be more specific because there aren’t enough ancient wolf samples. “There are still large areas of the map with few samples.”

He attributes this to the fact that DNA is preserved for longer in colder climates. The majority of the samples studied by the team came from the northern hemisphere and were found in permafrost and caves, both of which preserve genetic material well.

According to Bergstrom, the direct ancestor of modern dogs is most likely found in Asia. “It’ll be somewhere we don’t yet have any samples.”

The findings also back up previous research that suggests modern dogs may have a dual ancestry. Unlike dogs found in Siberia, the Americas, and Europe, early dogs in places like Israel and the African continent were found to be closely related to ancient European wolves.

According to Bergstrom, this suggests that wolves contributed DNA to the dogs that arrived in this region. This could mean that dogs were domesticated independently in the east and west and then merged, or that they were domesticated first in Asia and then reproduced with wolves in the west.

All modern dogs appear to have this dual ancestry. The first dogs discovered to have this dual ancestry were discovered in Israel 7000 years ago. However, this European wolf heritage could have arrived much earlier in the region, and we simply do not have the samples to prove it, according to Bergstrom. “Ideally, we’d have a 15,000-year-old dog from Israel.”

“Although previous studies have also proposed the involvement of either western or eastern – or both – Eurasian wolves as the ancestors of modern dogs,” says Keith Dobney of the University of Sydney in Australia.

“Frustratingly,” he says, “we’re still no closer to identifying the actual – now almost certainly extinct – ancient wolf populations that are our pampered pooches’ direct ancestors.” “The hunt for the smoking gun samples continues.”

Reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04824-9

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