Analysis of canine genetics has led to several revelations about canine history, breed development and even human pathology. Determining the domestication of dogs can be a difficult task. Even with the advances made in genomics, there are still many holes in the history of the evolution of dogs.
Analysis of chromosomal and other DNA in dogs and their close relatives (coyotes and wolves) has provided some insight into the origins of domesticated dogs. Recent studies have shown that we can actually learn a lot about the human race by studying the DNA of our canine companions.
This article reviews some of the key points made about how analysis of canine genes has improved our understanding of dogs and ourselves. Much of the information contained in this article is thanks to the recent study entitled Man’s Best Friend Becomes Biology’s Best In Show by Heidi G. Parker, Abigail L. Shearin and Elaine A. Ostrander, that shed the light on this subject.
How the Study of Dog DNA Is Improving Our Understanding of Humans
Analysis of DNA from mitochondria—a specialized structure in virtually all cells that contain DNA separate from the chromosomal DNA—suggests that dogs were domesticated between 16,000 to 1000,00 years ago. However, comparison of chromosomal DNA from dogs, wolves and coyotes, provides a smaller range between 18,000 to 27,000 years ago.
Although it is not clear when dogs were domesticated, researchers agree that it occurred at least 15,000 years ago. Genetic analysis of dogs and wolves revealed that many modern breeds share a genetic signature, or a set of genes that have a unique level of activity similar to wolves from the Middle East.
So, why are there so many types of dogs?
A major influence on canine traits is where the dog was domesticated, and some studies have already mapped this out. While dogs share a genetic signature with Middle Eastern wolves, they can be genetically influenced by wolves in their place of origin.
This was determined by a study analyzing haplotypes—a collection of genes on a chromosome that were likely to be conserved over the evolution of several generations—of dogs and wolves from different parts of the world.
Not surprisingly, the studies found that specific Asian breeds share an unusually high number of haplotypes with Chinese wolves, while European breeds shared a disproportionately amount of haplotypes with European wolves.
How are these wolves influencing dog breed traits?
One answer is that dogs were not just domesticated at one time in history and in one location. Instead they were domesticated all over the world from different types of wolves. However, this does not explain the shared genetic signature with Middle Eastern wolves.
The similarity may be due…