Did dogs really evolve from wolves? New evidence suggests otherwise.

New genetic research seemingly overturns the long-held notion that dogs evolved from the gray wolf.

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
Dogs drink water as they are reflected in a puddle during a walk in Duisburg, Germany, on Tuesday Jan.14,2014.

It turns out that today's dog breeds may not have evolved from the gray wolf, at least not the kind of gray wolf that exists today.

A study in the current issue of PLoS Genetics suggests that, instead, dogs and gray wolves share a common ancestor in an extinct wolf lineage that lived thousands of years ago. 

An international team of researchers generated genome sequences from three gray wolves – one each from China, Croatia, and Israel, the three countries where dogs are believed to have originated. They then sequenced the genome of a basenji dog from central Africa and a dingo from Australia. Both the regions have been historically isolated from wolf populations, according to a press release by The University of Chicago Medical Center

Analysis of these genomes from the wolves and the dogs showed that the dogs were more closely related to each other than they were to the wolves. The wolves, too, were closely related to each other than to the dogs.

Additionally, the scientists did not see a clear evidence linking dogs to any of the living wolves that were sampled.

"One possibility is there may have been other wolf lineages that these dogs diverged from that then went extinct," said John Novembre, associate professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago and a senior author on the study.

This shakes up the popular belief on domestication of dogs that are considered to be these "few docile, friendly wolves" which later became dogs after they were adopted by early farmers. Instead, the earliest dogs might have started out among hunter-gatherers before adjusting to an agricultural life later, Adam Freedman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the lead author on the study, told the Monitor.

There does exist some amount of genetic overlap between some modern dogs and wolves. But this is thought to be the result of interbreeding after dogs were domesticated, not a direct line of descent from one group of wolves, according to the press release. 

"If you don't explicitly consider such exchanges, these admixture events get confounded with shared ancestry," he said. Admixtures are hybrids produced due to interbreeding between two different population groups.  "Dog domestication is more complex than we originally thought," said Dr.Novembre.

This findings, says Dr. Freedman, will help them to study the genes involved in making dogs more dog like, and understand the history of evolution among the canines "We're trying to get every thread of evidence we can to reconstruct the past," Novembre said. "We use genetics to reconstruct the history of population sizes, relationships among populations and the gene flow that occurred. So now we have a much more detailed picture than existed before, and it's a somewhat surprising picture."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.