(From AFP) – Husky, shar pei, terrier or mutt, today’s dogs descended from wolves that probably lived in the Middle East, not Europe or Asia as many thought, according to a study published last Wednesday in the British science journal Nature.
"Dogs seem to share more genetic similarity with Middle Eastern grey wolves than any other wolf population worldwide," said one of its authors, Robert Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California in Los Angeles.
The researchers sequenced the genetic code from more than 900 dogs from 85 breeds and 200 wild grey wolves, including wolves in North America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
They analysed more than 48,000 single genetic markers, seeking areas of comparison that would enable them to build a canine family tree.
Its trunk, they found, is rooted in the Middle East, which concurs with evidence for the remains of dogs found at sites from 13,000 years ago.
Archaeologists have long suspected that domesticated canines were first used in the Fertile Crescent, as early farmers and villagers sought to protect flocks and homes from predators.
"We know that dogs from the Middle East were closely associated with humans because they were found in ancient human burial sites," Wayne said in a press release.
"In one case, a puppy is curled up in the arms of a buried human."
Cats, too, are believed to have taken the same path, proving their usefulness to Middle Eastern homesteads by protecting grain from rats and mice.
Such cues, though, contrasted with genomic research that suggested an East Asian origin for dogs.
However, that work was based on only a small part of the genome, in the mitochondria, and does not give a fuller picture, said Wayne.
The paper also found that 80 percent of dog breeds have evolved in the last few hundred years, although some breeds have a DNA pedigree that goes back thousands of years.
"Our results show that Middle Eastern wolves were a critical source of genome diversity, although interbreeding with local wolf populations clearly occurred elsewhere in the early history of specific lineages," it said.
"More recently, the evolution of modern dog breeds seems to have been an iterative process that drew on a limited genetic toolkit to create remarkable… diversity."