Ural Federal University: Modern Dogs Have Two Different Ancestors

An international team of scientists, including Pavel Kosintsev, a Senior Researcher at the laboratories of the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and UrFU, has found that the domestication of wolves and, consequently, the appearance of dogs could have occurred in two different parts of the world independently of each other. In other words, modern dogs have two different ancestors located in Eastern and Western Eurasia. Scientists have come to this conclusion by analyzing the 72 genomes of ancient wolves (about 30 thousand generations), covering the past 100 thousand years. Samples have been studied from Europe, Siberia and North America. The results are published in the journal Nature.

“There is no consensus among scientists as to when, where, or how modern dogs originated. None of the analyzed ancient wolf genomes directly matches any of the ancestors of modern dogs. This means that the exact populations of canine ancestors have yet to be determined,” explains Pavel Kosintsev.

The most recent DNA analysis showed that modern wolf populations were formed mainly in the last 30-20 thousand years or during the maximum of the last glaciation. Since none of the modern wolves correspond to the common ancestor from which modern dog breeds descended, the original population was considered extinct. However, DNA analysis conducted by the research team showed that this was not entirely true.

“Descendants of at least two populations of ancient wolves (“East Eurasian” and “West Eurasian”) have survived and are widespread among modern dogs. It has been found that the “eastern ancestor” appears to be 100% ancestral to dogs in Siberia, America, East Asia and northeastern Europe. “Western ancestor” is 20-60% an ancestor of early Middle Eastern and African dogs and 5-25% an ancestor of Neolithic and later European dogs. Thus, the ancient dogs of Europe were either descended from the local wolf population and later genetically mixed with dogs brought from the east, or domestic dogs from Asia were brought to Europe and here mixed with local wolves,” Kosintsev says.

Subsequently, “Western” dogs spread throughout the world. This was probably due to the prehistoric spread of agriculture in Western Eurasia and the spread of European dogs during the colonial era.

The research did not result in finding a common ancestor of modern dogs. However, it was possible to outline a new direction of research which is South Asia, where it may be possible to find it.