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article imageThis prehistoric puppy tells the story of canine evolution

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 19, 2016 in Science
Frozen in Siberian permafrost, this puppy died more than 12,000 years ago and is remarkably well-preserved.
In fact, it's so well-preserved that scientists have performed an autopsy, in the hopes that it will solve the mysteries of canine evolution.
Researchers think the dog is about 12,400 years old and may have been someone's pet before it was killed in a landslide near the Siberian village of Tumat, HuffPost Science reports. The small, mummified dog was discovered last year.
What's even more remarkable is that this is the first well-preserved Pleistocene predator brain scientists have discovered, said Dr. Pavel Nikolsky, a research fellow at the Geological Institute Moscow, according to The Siberian Times.
About 70 to 80 percent of the pup's brain has been preserved, Nikolsky notes, adding that researchers will be able to say more precisely how much is preserved once the brain is extracted. For now, researchers are relying on MRI scans, and from that, they have been able to observe the parencephalon, cerebellum, and pituitary gland.
"We can say that this is the first time we have obtained the brain of a Pleistocene canid."
Professor Hwang Woo-suk, of South Korea, who has gained notoriety for seeking to clone woolly mammoths and other extinct creatures, was also there to examine the remains. He has now added this extinct dog to the list of animals he wants to try bringing back to life and has taken a few samples — from the skin, muscles, and from ear cartilage — in the hopes of doing this, Mirror reports.
In the video clip above, researchers can be seen carefully washing mud and dirt from off of the frozen puppy prior to conducting a post mortem in Yakutsk, the capital of Russia's Sakha Republic. The mummified remains were found in this region on a steep bank of the River Syalakh.
Another puppy, likely a sibling, was found in the same location near the village of Tumat in 2011, but it was not as well-preserved.
Researchers hope to learn a few other things as well, and have taken samples of the ground that surrounded the carcass in order to study the bacteria found there, said Dr. Artemiy Goncharov head of the research laboratory of the Department of Epidemiology, Parasitology and Desinfectology at the North-Western State Medical University in St. Petersburg.
"Later we will compare them with the bacteria from the puppy's intestines," he said. "We hope to find ancient bacteria among them."
He noted that they are also searching for parasites, such as ticks or fleas on the creature.
Scientists are also hoping that this prehistoric domestic dog will solve at least some of the mysteries of how canines evolved, HuffPost Science reports.
"There are still important and incompletely resolved questions about how developmental patterns in early dogs differed from those of closely related (and ultimately ancestral) canid lineages," said Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology.
"We would like to know more about how and when the lineages that gave rise to dogs came to differ from their wolf relatives, and judging the age and stage of development of various features on a specimen like this could help to understand some of this history," he added.
Even studying this dog's intestinal contents can help scientists learn about its diet, and that in itself could indicate how much time it spent with humans.
Fisher was, however, less positive about the idea of cloning the little dog. He's familiar with the research surrounding this idea, but said the chances of cloning even a well-preserved sample are "very slim."
"The problem is that even for tissues preserved in permafrost, the DNA is highly fragmented," he said. "Most permafrost is not as cold as would be ideal for preservation of fresh tissues, and the tissue was probably not frozen as quickly following death as would be necessary if cloning were to be practical."
On top of that, there hasn't been much "on the cloning front that really advances our understanding of these animals," he said.
So perhaps the idea of cloning will be left for another day, another find.
Remains that are likely human were also found at the site, and this indicates the puppies were likely pets or working dogs.
More about prehistoric puppy, Evolution, evolution of dogs, canine evolution, tumat
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