Mr. Science: The Domestication of the Dog and the Australian Dingo

Australian DingoesVia Mr. Science (and SciencePodcasters) comes a podcast on the ever-fascinating topic of dog domestication/evolution:

The Domestication of the Dog and the Australian Dingo

The Australian dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog may be the world’s oldest dog breeds.

The study, Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication, which was published in Nature and is a major genetic study into the domestication of the dog, was a world-wide effort and had 37 authors – including Dr Alan Wilton, of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW.

The study found that the dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog are the most closely related breeds of modern dogs to the original wolves from which all dog breeds come from. They are also the most like the original domesticated dog.

The study looked at 48,000 sites in the dog genome in hundreds of wolves, almost a thousand dogs from 85 modern breeds and several ancient dog breeds. Dr Wilton, a celebrated scientist in the field of dingo research and conservation who won the Unsung Hero of Science Award in 2004, provided the dingo DNA. The data suggest most dogs were domesticated in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago, rather than in Asia as had been previously thought.

Dingoes separated from other breeds of dog when brought to Australia around 5,000 years ago. However, they never made it to Tasmania, which became isolated from the mainland around 12,000 years ago. It is thought that the dingo out-competed the thylacine (Tasmanian Tigers) leading to its extinction on the mainland.

Other ancient breeds include Chow-Chow, Basenji, Akita, Chinese har-Pei, Siberian husky and Alaskan malamut.

I had a great chat to Dr Wilton about this work into the domestication – or as I repeatedly say, domestification… – of the dog and also about his work in dingo studies and conservation.

Also see an article by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times that reported on the research in March, as well as an older article on the colour of dogs and on their different fur coats.

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