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DNA Gives Insight into Prehistoric Bonds Between Dogs and Humans

Research Suggests man’s best friend may have originated from just two populations of wolves.

London, April 24, 2019: The domestication of animals is regarded as one of the seminal developments in human history. It saw wild animals at first live in closer proximity to humans and then gradually evolve new traits that became beneficial to our species.

The process has given us readily available sources of protein, milk and fat. It has provided animals that can help us work the land, guard our property or enable us to travel faster than we can on foot. They have also offered us valuable companionship.

But exactly how, where and when our ancestors domesticated many of the pets and livestock we have around us today is still largely a mystery. Researchers on the UnDEAD project, however, are attempting to unravel this using DNA obtained from the remains of wild and domesticated animals that lived thousands of years ago.
By comparing these to the DNA from modern domestic animals like dogs, chickens and pigs, they are starting to build up a picture of where these animals came from.

‘These three animals can tell us a lot about the beginning of domestication and the changing association they had with people,’ said Professor Greger Larson, a palaeogeneticist at the University of Oxford in the UK and coordinator of the UnDEAD project.

Larson said dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, chickens were the earliest birds that we have evidence of domestication for and pigs were some of the earliest farm animals to be domesticated.

Research has produced some surprising findings. Dogs, for example, were thought to have been domesticated from wolves just once around 15,000 years ago. But research by the UnDEAD project on genetic material obtained from 59 ancient dogs and a dog from the Bronze Age in Ireland around 4,800 years ago has shown that dogs may have been domesticated on more than one occasion.
By combining the genetic analysis with archaeological evidence of domestic dogs from around the world, their findings suggest that wolves were domesticated independently from two separate populations in Eastern and Western Asia. The animals then spread with humans into Europe and Asia.

(Story by Horizon)

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