How did dogs evolve from wolves? Ancient DNA unveils new clues.

Dec 13, 2017
Originally published on December 13, 2017 12:44 pm

An archeological dig yields more than arrowheads, shards of pottery, or pieces of jewelry.

They also yield bones.

A research team at the University of Michigan has been studying some ancient dog bones dug up in Germany. In doing so, they’ve uncovered new clues about when our faithful domesticated dog evolved from wolves.

Jeff Kidd, an assistant professor of human genetics and computational medicine and bioinformatics at the University of Michigan Medical School, joined Stateside today to explain what we now know about our dogs’ link to wolves.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read a couple highlights below.

The age of the ancient samples discovered

“The two samples that my team and our collaborators from a number of places looked at are about 5,000 to 7,000 years old, from Germany.”

On how extracting ancient DNA is possible

“It turns out that even after an animal dies and its bones are in the ground for a long time, the DNA is still recoverable. And in fact, a key finding that’s happened a couple years ago now is that there’s a specific bone – it’s called the petrous bone – it’s sort of the part of your inner ear in the back of your skull that’s like a storehouse of DNA. And that, for some reason, that bone just maintains high-quality DNA for a very long time.”

One snapshot of what they learned

“So we learned a couple things. First, we sort of revisited an ongoing controversy about when and where dogs were domesticated. As you can imagine – dogs are man’s best friend, right? People care very deeply about that history. And it also tells us something about how domestication itself and artificial selection can work.”

“…What we saw when we compared the DNA sequences from the two samples from Germany, along with the previously published dog from around the same time in Ireland, is actually that we don’t think there needs to be two domestications. We think that the data is totally consistent with a single domestication that happened quite a long time ago, perhaps up to 30,000 years, which is super old.”

Listen above for the in-depth conversation. You’ll learn why Kidd says “understanding the genetic basis of dog disease often has direct impact into understanding common ways that human disease develops as well.”

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