The modern domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris
, is a closely related subspecies of the wild gray wolf, Canis lupus
. Biologists have long known that the first dogs originated through domestication of wolves around 15,000 years ago. While the descent of dogs from wolves through domestication is non-controversial in genetics, determining the region in the world where this occurred has been more of a question. Earlier studies had suggested a Middle Eastern origin for dogs.
A new study focusing on the lineage of the Y-chromosome indicates that dogs originated somewhere in eastern Asia, south of the Yangtze River. The Y-chromosome is carried by males and its study complements earlier findings which focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line. Both lines point to the same Asian origin, strong independent evidence that the genetic studies are valid. The researchers claim that the earlier studies indicating a Middle Eastern origin left out important samples of genetic material from the eastern Asian region and were thus incomplete.
The conclusions are based on an analysis of the genetic diversity in populations of dogs in various regions of the world. The widest range of genetic diversity is found in the eastern Asian region, while dogs in other regions contain only portions of the total complement of eastern Asian genetic material. This indicates that these wider populations are descended from smaller groups that spread out from the Asian region in the past.
The researchers' paper is available from the journal Heredity.