An international group of geneticists and archaeologists with participation of the University of Potsdam have found that the ancestry of dogs can be traced to at least two populations of ancient wolves.
This finding, published in “Nature” yesterday, means a step forward to solve the question where dogs underwent domestication, which is one of the biggest unanswered questions about human prehistory.
Dogs are known to have originated from the gray wolf, with this domestication occurring during the Ice Age, at least 15,000 years ago. But where this happened, and if it occurred in one single location or in multiple places, is still unknown.
In their study, published in Nature on 29 June, the researchers turned to ancient wolf genomes to further understanding of where the first dogs evolved from wolves. They analyzed 72 ancient wolf genomes, spanning the last 100,000 years, from Europe, Siberia, and North America. The remains came from previously excavated ancient wolves and included a full, perfectly preserved head from a Siberian wolf that lived 32,000 years ago.
Nine different ancient DNA labs collaborated on generating DNA sequence data from the wolves. One of the labs is situated at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biology at the University of Potsdam. Co-author Ulrike Taron from the Adaptive Genomics Group explains: “Genomic analyses show that both early and modern dogs are genetically more similar to ancient wolves in Asia than to those of Europe, suggesting domestication in eastern Eurasia.“ However, they also found evidence that two separate populations of wolves contributed DNA to dogs.
Early dogs from north-eastern Europe, Siberia, and the Americas appear to have a single, shared origin from the eastern source. But early dogs from the Middle East, Africa, and southern Europe appear to have some ancestry from another source related to wolves in the Middle East, in addition to the eastern source.
First author Anders Bergström from the Ancient Genomics lab at the Francis Crick Institute, says: “Through this project we have greatly increased the number of sequenced ancient wolf genomes, allowing us to create a detailed picture of wolf ancestry over time, including around the time of dog origins. By trying to place the dog piece into this picture, we found that dogs derive ancestry from at least two separate wolf populations – an eastern source that contributed to all dogs and a separate more westerly source, that contributed to some dogs.”
Cover Photo : Jessica Rae Peto, The Francis Crick Institute