A group of British scientists recently announced that they are close to discovering how domestic dogs are directly descended from wolves.
According to the English tabloid Daily Mail, researchers at The Francis Crick Institute in London compared the genomes of 72 ancient wolves with those of modern dogs. With this experiment, they found that wolves from Asia and the Middle East contributed to the DNA of dogs from regions of North Africa and southern Europe.
The research indicated that ancient genomes also produced a timeline, showing how wolf DNA changed over 30,000 generations through natural selection. There is an expectation that this process has been replicated in other species to provide new information about the evolution of these animals.
Anders Bergström, co-author of the study and researcher in the Ancient Genomics laboratory at The Francis explains: “Through this project, we have greatly increased the number of sequenced ancient wolf genomes, allowing us to create a detailed picture of wolf ancestry over time. , including at the time of the origins of dogs”.
He added: “We found that dogs descend from at least two distinct breeds of wolves. The first is of eastern origin that contributed to the formation of all dog breeds and the second, of western origin, which was important for the emergence of some dog breeds”.
It is estimated that dogs originated from the gray wolf, kennel lupus, which was present throughout the northern hemisphere during the last Ice Age, when many other large mammals became extinct. Researchers believe their domestication took place at least 15,000 years ago, but previous studies comparing the DNA of dogs with modern wolves have been unable to pinpoint exactly when this process began in the ancestral history of dogs.
The new findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, used ancient wolf genomes to deepen understanding of the origins of dogs. Geneticists and archaeologists analyzed 72 genomes, spanning the last 100,000 years of Europe, Siberia and North America.
The materials came from wolf remains excavated years ago, including a preserved head of a Siberian wolf that lived 32,000 years ago. Experts have claimed that early and modern dogs are more genetically similar to ancient wolves in Asia than those in Europe, suggesting that domestication took place somewhere in the east. But, they also found evidence that two separate breeds of wolves contributed the dogs’ DNA.
One possible explanation for this dual ancestry is that wolves were domesticated more than once, with the different races intermingling. Another possibility is that domestication happened only once, and that the dual ancestry is due to these early dogs mixing with wild wolves.
By analyzing the changes in the DNA of wolves over about 30,000 generations, the scientists identified a process of natural selection in the evolution of the species, through a genetic variant that, before considered rare, became present in all wolves. for 10 thousand years. The variant affects the IFT88 gene which is involved in the development of skull and jaw bones, and remains in all wolves and dogs today.
The study indicates that these changes may be related to the conditions experienced by wolves in the Ice Age, such as a certain head shape and other physical advantages for dealing with the prey available at the time.
Senior research author Pontus Skoglund concluded that this method could help provide new insights into how evolution happens in other species and its relationship to natural selection.
“We found several cases where the mutations spread across all wolves, which was possible because the species was highly connected over great distances. This connectivity is perhaps one reason why wolves were able to survive the Ice Age, while many other large carnivores disappeared.”