Study says Fido is from Middle East
Your sweet and pettable family dog most likely is descended from Middle Eastern wolves, according to new research into dog genes.
Dogs' descent from wolves is known, but previous research suggested an Asian link (Chinese Shar-Peis are one of the oldest breeds). But a new, more extensive genetic analysis of more than 900 dogs from 85 breeds and of 200 wild gray wolves on various continents, connects the domestication of dogs to the rise of civilization in the Middle East.
"This is the same area where domestic cats and many of our livestock originated and where agriculture first developed," said one of the study's authors, Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, in a statement. After analyzing 48,000 markers in the genomes of dogs and wolves in North America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia, the researchers concluded that there was "a strong kinship to Middle Eastern gray wolves and, to some extent, European gray wolves -- but much less so to any wolves from East Asia."
Wayne said this finding, published online recently by the journal Nature, was more "consistent with the archaeological record" than with previous studies, which used just part of the genome to come up with the East Asian connection. Archaeological records suggest domesticated dogs appeared in the Middle East 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Wayne said the oldest evidence of a dog -- it resembled a Great Dane -- dates back 31,000 years in what is now Belgium. "We know that dogs from the Middle East were closely associated with humans because they were found in ancient human burial sites," he reported, including one site where a puppy's remains were "curled up in the arms of a buried human."
The researchers also said that about 80 percent of dog breeds date from modern times: They evolved in the past few hundred years, as dog breeding took off.
-- Margaret Shapiro