Genome Mapping Reveals the Ancestors of Modern Dogs


Geneticists at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Maryland spent 20 years mapping the canine genome, trying to find the origin of modern dogs, how different breeds came to be, and why some dogs are more sensible while others are able to survive in the harshest conditions.

Researchers Were Not Interested in the Domestication Process

The team’s purpose was to determine how all modern dogs came to be. To that extent, they looked at 161 different breeds, a total of 1346 dogs. Researchers analyzed about 150,000 spots on every single genome specimen, building a complex family tree.

All the samples were categorized in 23 groupings labeled as clades. A single clade contains dogs that are genetically similar, some even sharing similar physical traits life the Boston terriers, boxers, and bulldogs, all bred for their strength. Another clade brings together herders the likes of corgis, sheepdogs, and collies. Spaniels and Retrievers, were categorized as hunters.

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In the beginning, there were dogs pertaining to these 23 clades. Then, approximately two centuries ago, people started breeding them into different races, focusing more on the physical aspect rather than their purposes. Therefore, starting the 1800s, dog breeders started combining different clades, aiming at creating new, attractive breeds.

All Small Breeds Started Out with the Pug

According to the findings, back in the 1500s, the pug was introduced to the European continent by Chinese traders. The dog was then used to shrink other breeds. Today, the majority of small breeds share their DNA with the flat-faced dog.

The research can be of use to veterinarians, specialists having the opportunity to spot potential genetic problems. For example, there is an affliction called collie eye anomaly which affects both collies, border collies, Australian shepherds, and Nova Scotia retrievers. Until now, veterinarians were unable to explain why the condition affected other breeds besides collies.

“We had reached a point where we could begin to do some of the things we wanted to do. By no means are we done.”

While preliminary results are more than impressive, there are more breeds that must be examined. The team mentioned that their work was only sample-based and that all 2.5 billion genome bases must be analyzed in order to have an exhaustive image of the evolution of dog breeds.

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Image Source: Pixabay

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