Europe: Where Dogs and Humans Fell in Love

A longstanding mystery about a longstanding friendship becomes a little clearer

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People who instinctively recoil from the idea of genetic engineering tend to forget about Fido. Nobody reached in and hand-tinkered with the DNA of dogs, but the animals that are now thought of as humanity’s sidekick started out as purebred grey wolves. They only turned into our tail-wagging, ball-chasing buddies through selective breeding that gradually dialed down their surly aggression and ramped up their friendliness.

Exactly when and where that transformation began, however, has been a point of scientific contention. East Asia has always been a leading contender, but so have the Middle and Near East—somewhere between Israel and India. As for the timing, bones that are arguably from the earliest dogs—they seem to have the right structure, although the differences between dog and wolf bones aren’t always clear—date back to more than 30,000 years ago. But genetic analysis contradicts that, indicating that dogs and wolves didn’t diverge until about 15,000 years ago.

It is, in short, a very tangled story, but a new report in Science may finally have unraveled it. And the answer is…none of the above. Humans began domesticating dogs somewhere between 18,000 and 32,000 years ago says lead author Olaf Thalmann, a geneticist at Finland’s University of Turku. And it happened in Europe.

(MORE: Meet the First Dog to Climb Mt. Everest)

Thalmann and his co-authors are quick to acknowledge that this claim shouldn’t be considered definitive. “This is not the end-story in the debate about dog domestication” said Robert Wayne, of UCLA in a statement, “but I think it is a powerful argument opposing other hypotheses of origin.” That’s quite an admission for Wayne, since his previous work pointed to a Middle Eastern origin for dogs. But the new argument is compelling—and it’s in two parts.

The first is genetic: Thalmann, Wayne and their colleagues used mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), which is found outside the nucleus of cells. It isn’t part of animals’ primary genome (mDNA is only inherited from the mother, not from both parents), but it’s more robustly preserved than nuclear DNA. The researchers compared and contrasted mDNA from 18 long-dead canines with mDNA from 77 modern dogs, 49 wolves and four coyotes.

The result: the modern dogs’ distant genetic material most nearly resembled that of an ancient European wolf population that has long since gone extinct. Tracing the relationship back that far at least establishes just who the dog’s wolf ancestors were. As for when the divergence took place, differences between mDNA from ancient dogs and ancient wolves implied that the two species began drifting apart at least 18,000 years ago.

(MORE: The Secrets Inside Your Dog’s Mind)

If that’s so, then one piece of conventional wisdom about the origin of dogs might be wrong. The old story is that dogs began to evolve after humans made the shift from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to a village-based agrarian society. The abundance of food, goes the argument, would have lured some of the friendlier wolves into town, jump-starting the domestication process. But agriculture didn’t exist 18,000 years ago, so if Thalmann et. al. are correct, wolves were presumably lured into human camps by the leftover carcasses of butchered animals.

This new  story clearly upends the old one—but not everyone is prepared to buy it. One objection: mDNA isn’t as reliable a guide to species divergence as DNA from cells’ nuclei. It reflects only,“a small part of the evolutionary history,” Chung-I Wu, of the University of Chicago, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Science. “Two parts of the genome can tell two different stories.” With that, Thalmann agrees: “To make a more solid finding,” he says, “we definitely need nuclear DNA from fossil canines.”

Another problem is that the ancient samples the team used are mostly from Europe, and that, says Peter Savolainen of the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, who advocates the Asian theory of domestication, skews the results. “It’s not really an objective study,” he told Science. It is, he says, as if you tried to pinpoint human origins without looking at any fossils from Africa.

(MORE: Bringing Dogs to Heal: Care For Veterans With PTSD)

And again, Thalmann concedes the point. “It’s a red flag,” he admits. “We only had Russian and European samples.” The team would have used samples from the Middle East and Asia as well, but their only fossil from the Middle East yielded no useful data, and, he says “we don’t know of any samples from China older than 13,000 years. What we have is the best we can offer.”

That hardly means the new story Thalmann and the others tell is incorrect, though; it just means they’ll have to keep digging, and that’s what they plan to do. The human-canine cross-species friendship is a long and deep one. How such an unlikely bond came to be is an irresistible question.

(FROM THE ARCHIVES: Sport: Putting on the DogFeb. 27, 1928)

6 comments
Ohyunjoeng
Ohyunjoeng

Correct in this article is questionable.
I'm more confused because scientific debate.
There is a special relationship between people and dogs knew.
For this reason, the loyalty to a person, so this is confusing.
Old proverb and story related dogs were innumerable.
It probably came out emotions and actions seem to resemble each other.
This article about aggression and friendship.
I am really surprised at this point.
Whether any direction I want to go out more.
Now I can not wait any scientific evidence emerge.

lordofthefly
lordofthefly

Leave it to Americans to take dog worship to new and ridiculous heights. I read that we spent $8 billion on pets for Valentine's Day. This is beyond stupid. I get it that some dogs are nicer than some humans, but I guess doggie lovers find humans too challenging. I would opt for a grown, mature, intelligent human that I did not have to take out for walks, even on the nastiest days of the year. It amuses me that people think their dogs love them.

RiKushsolution
RiKushsolution

JOZS is the only global association of its kind, set up for researchers and field professionals. It cooperates with governments and organizations concerned with the worldwide promotion of talents, creativity, excellence, and innovation. In the service of its purposes, the JOZS organizes conferences and symposia, and publishes a newsletter and a journal. 

For more info click here:- http://journalofzoology.com

acaffar2
acaffar2

Isn't it possible that this is something that spontaneously happened in different human communities all over the world? 

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION: Only micro-evolution, or evolution within biological "kinds," is genetically possible (such as the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not macro-evolution, or evolution across biological "kinds," (such as from sea sponge to human). All real evolution in nature is simply the expression, over time, of already existing genes or variations of already existing genes. For example, we have breeds of dogs today that we didn’t have a few hundred years ago. The genes for these breeds had always existed in the dog population but never had opportunity before to be expressed. Only limited evolution or adaptation, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

Evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly millions of years, random genetic mutations caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. It's much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That's the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems, etc. were still evolving? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start would be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival. For example, “if a leg of a reptile were to evolve (over supposedly millions of years) into a wing of a bird, it would become a bad leg long before it became a good wing” (Dr. Walt Brown, scientist and creationist). Survival of the fittest actually would have prevented evolution across biological kinds! Read my Internet article: WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS! (2nd Edition).

All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully-formed, fully functional. This is powerful evidence that species did not come into existence gradually by any macro-evolutionary process but, rather, came into existence as complete and ready-to-go from the very beginning which is possible only by special creation.

What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn't mean all forms of life are biologically related!

Also, so-called "Junk DNA" isn't junk. Although these "non-coding" segments of DNA don't code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they're not "junk"). Read my popular Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn't produce biological traits or variations. It can only "select" from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. The term "natural selection" is a figure of speech. Nature doesn't do any conscious selecting. If a variation occurs in a species (i.e. change in skin color) that helps the species survive then that survival is called being"selected." That's all it is. Natural selection is a passive process in nature, not a creative process.

The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural
selection.

 Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION .

I discuss: Punctuated Equilibria, "Junk DNA," genetics, mutations, natural selection, fossils, dinosaur “feathers,” the genetic and biological similarities between various species, etc., etc.

Sincerely,
Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. theology/biology)

Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings on religion and science. I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterward) before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges/universities.

VasuMurti
VasuMurti

Why does the evil woman keep harping on the word "dog" when we use half a dozen different animal words? Is she a bigot? Why can't this mysterious gentleman everyone refers to as "Who" tell her to shut up?!