In­roads made in trac­ing lineage of man’s best friend

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MAL­COLM RIT­TER

NEW YORK | For years, sci­en­tists have been dogged by this evo­lu­tion ques­tion: Just where did man’s best friend first ap­pear?

The ear­li­est known dog­like fos­sils come from Europe, but DNA stud­ies have im­pli­cated East Asia and the Mid­dle East. Now a large DNA study is lin­ing up with the fos­sils, sug­gest­ing dogs orig­i­nated in Europe some 19,000 to 32,000 years ago.

Sci­en­tists praised the new work but said it won’t end the de­bate.

Sci­en­tists gen­er­ally agree that dogs emerged from wolves to be­come the first do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mal. Their wolf an­ces­tors be­gan to as­so­ci­ate with peo­ple, maybe drawn by food in garbage dumps and car­casses left by hu­man hunters. In the process they be­came tamer, and sci­en­tists be­lieve peo­ple found them use­ful for things like hunt­ing and guard duty. Over a very long time in this hu­man en­vi­ron­ment, wolves grad­u­ally turned into the first dogs.

The lat­est at­tempt to fig­ure out where this hap­pened was pub­lished online Thurs­day by the jour­nal Sci­ence.

Re­searchers gath­ered DNA from fos­sils of 18 an­cient wolflike and dog­like crea­tures that lived up to 36,000 years ago in Ar­gentina, Bel­gium, Ger­many, Rus­sia, Switzer­land and the U.S. They com­pared the ge­netic ma­te­rial to mod­ern sam­ples from 49 wolves from North Amer­ica, Asia, Europe and the Mid­dle East, 77 dogs of a wide va­ri­ety of breeds in­clud­ing cocker spaniel, basenji and golden retriever, and four coy­otes.

The DNA of mod­ern dogs showed sim­i­lar­i­ties to the ge­netic ma­te­rial from the an­cient Euro­pean spec­i­mens and mod­ern-day Euro­pean wolves, the re­searchers re­ported.

The first dogs evolved by as­so­ci­at­ing with hunter-gath­er­ers rather than farm­ers, since dogs ev­i­dently ap­peared be­fore agri­cul­ture did, they said.

“There are now, based on ge­netic ev­i­dence, three al­ter­na­tive hy­pothe­ses for the ori­gin of dogs,” said Robert Wayne of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, a study au­thor.

He said his re­sults sug­gest a bet­ter case for Europe than for East Asia or the Mid­dle East. He also said the kind of wolf that gave rise to dogs is now ex­tinct.

Olaf Thal­mann of the Univer­sity of Turku in Fin­land, another au­thor, said the work doesn’t mean that Europe is the only place where dogs emerged.

“We con­clude that Europe played a ma­jor role in the do­mes­ti­ca­tion process,” he said in an email.

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