If you’ve ever done a search on your family history, you know how intricate it can be. But have you ever wondered about your dogs’ family history? Sure we know they evolved from wolves, but is that all there is? Science says no. A recent breakthrough in dogs’ family tree now reveals the history of their heritage.
In a recent study published in Cell Reports, scientists studied the genomes of nearly 1,500 dogs. The study traced the relationship among different breeds – creating one of the most diver family tree maps to date.
The map shows different types of dogs that humans cross to create modern breeds. It revealed that dogs bred to perform specific functions – like working or herding dogs – don’t always share the same origin.
In fact, their study hints that an ancient dog may have even migrated to the Americas long before Christopher Columbus.
The study shows that, despite what owners and breeders are familiar with, not all dogs that are grouped into categories are related.
US National Institutes of Health (NIH) biologist Heidi Parker said, “You would think that all working dogs or all herding dogs are related, but that isn’t the case.”
Most breeds in the study came from European and Asian dog groups. Domestic dogs came to the America thousands of years ago, though, after humans crossed Siberia to Alaska through the Bering land bridge.
The dogs of the New World disappeared after the European and Asian dogs landed in the Americas. Researchers have tried to look for the genetic legacy of the ancient dogs in the DNA of modern breeds, but haven’t found much evidence.
Researchers found that two South American breeds – the Peruvian Hairless Dog and Xoloitzcuintli – share genes not found in any other breed. They think these genes could even come from the ancient dogs that landed in America before Christopher Columbus.
Evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Bob Wayne said, “I think our view of the formation of modern dog breeds has historically been one-dimensional. We didn’t consider that the process has a deep historical legacy.”
Parker and fellow biologist at NIH Elaine Ostrander, believe that dog breeds went through two periods of diversification. Thousands of years ago, dogs were chosen for their skills whereas hundreds of years ago, dogs were bred for physical traits.
This deliberate breeding is dog-specific, too. Wayne says that researchers would never be able to find something like this in cats or cows.
While these studies can certainly help understand where domestic dogs came from, there are other reasons for creating this database. For one, it can help diagnose illnesses in domestic dogs.
It can also help with the study of human disease.
Humans and dogs can suffer from the same diseases – like epilepsy, for example. While hundreds of genes can influence the illness in humans, dog breeds tend to be genetically isolated. This means each breed could carry just one or two genes related to epilepsy. By studying them, they can look at the genes individually, making it much more efficient.
Like human family trees, dogs’ family trees are just as intricate – and interesting!