Tibetan wolf. A subspecies of grey wolf similar to this is thought to have given rise to the world’s first dogs, according to new research. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS. All dogs alive today can trace at least some of their ancestry back to dogs that were domesticated 33,000 years ago in southern East Asia, suggests one of the most extensive ever investigations of canine DNA.
In addition to pinpointing the place and time for the earliest dog domestication, the new study, published in the journal Cell Research, found that the first domesticated dogs descended from grey wolves that likely came from China.
The research, conducted by an international team, further determined that dogs began to migrate out of East Asia and towards the Middle East and Africa 15,000 years ago. They then reached Europe in large numbers approximately 10,000 years ago. It appears that the dogs self-initiated the moves.
“For some reason, dogs stayed around East Asia for a long time before their migration out of Asia,” senior author Ya-Ping Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Kunming Institute of Zoology told Discovery News. “We speculated that the glacial period might have been the environmental factor that prevented dogs from migrating out of Asia.”
For the study, Zhang, Peter Savolainen of the KTH- Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and their colleagues sequenced the genomes of 58 canines, including grey wolves, indigenous dogs from Southeast and Northeast Asia, village dogs from Nigeria, and numerous dog breeds from around the world.
Based on the DNA analysis, they found that dogs from Southeast Asia have a higher degree of genetic diversity than all other dogs. Such genetic diversity is an indicator of where a species originates. Additionally, these dogs were most closely related to grey wolves.
DNA remains a focus for research on the history of dogs because the fossil record for dogs in East Asia is so poor. Zhang said that the warm, humid conditions of the region are not favorable for preserving fossils. Also, there have not been many targeted excavations in the region.
“Yet another unfavorable detail is that the soil in southern East Asia is mostly quite acidic, pH often below 5, which makes bones dissolve within a few hundred years,” Savolainen said.