Dogs Are East Asian

I found this article pretty interesting. A recent genetic research article on the origins of the dog has found that the likely place of origin for the dog, rather than the Middle East as has been held to be the case for some time, is East Asia:

Genetic researchers have released results of a study that indicates that modern domestic dogs originated in eastern Asia.

The modern domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, is a closely related subspecies of the wild gray wolf, Canis lupus. Biologists have long known that the first dogs originated through domestication of wolves around 15,000 years ago. While the descent of dogs from wolves through domestication is non-controversial in genetics, determining the region in the world where this occurred has been more of a question. Earlier studies had suggested a Middle Eastern origin for dogs.

A new study focusing on the lineage of the Y-chromosome indicates that dogs originated somewhere in eastern Asia, south of the Yangtze River. The Y-chromosome is carried by males and its study complements earlier findings which focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line. Both lines point to the same Asian origin, strong independent evidence that the genetic studies are valid. The researchers claim that the earlier studies indicating a Middle Eastern origin left out important samples of genetic material from the eastern Asian region and were thus incomplete.

The conclusions are based on an analysis of the genetic diversity in populations of dogs in various regions of the world. The widest range of genetic diversity is found in the eastern Asian region, while dogs in other regions contain only portions of the total complement of eastern Asian genetic material. This indicates that these wider populations are descended from smaller groups that spread out from the Asian region in the past.

The study is here.

I think this makes a certain amount of sense. If you go back a thousand years or so ago, before world commerce exploded, there was more morphological diversity in dogs in East Asia than anywhere else. Whereas in the west there were a relatively small number of types and characteristics, e.g. mastiffs, coursing dogs, etc., in Asia there were all of those characteristics and more, some of which have barely filtered to the rest of the world even today. Rather than the East Asians getting mastiffs from the Romans (a claim I’ve read over the years) I think it’s much more likely that Alexander’s troops brought them back from Asia.

Wherever there’s the most genetic diversity is a pretty good place to look for the place of origin.

8 comments… add one
  • Wherever there’s the most genetic diversity is a pretty good place to look for the place of origin.

    I wonder if that is true in nature. Keep in mind that for dog breeding the selective pressure is man made, not natural.

  • It’s certainly the prevailing wisdom on human evolution.

  • Zachriel

    Steve Verdon: I wonder if that is true in nature. Keep in mind that for dog breeding the selective pressure is man made, not natural.

    Selective pressure generally reduces diversity.

    Consider the original population. The strains that reach Europe or America are limited in number and form the nucleus of new populations, a genetic bottle neck. From then on, they may diversify again—, but so does the original population which already started with greater diversity.

    By the way, most of the plastic changes in dogs are due to just a relatively few mutations.

  • I’ll keep my agnosticism on this.

    I think it more likely that dogs were domesticated in several areas by several peoples. They were all of essentially the same genetic stock of wolf-like canids, but several strains took different routes while retaining their general relatedness.

    For the same reason, I hold some skepticism about the ‘Out of Africa, Once’ or ‘Out of Africa, Twice’ theories. I suspect that there were more exits, more diversification, and more interbreeding among Homo species globally. The diversity all got flattened out in a bottleneck or two.

  • Dave

    “Wherever there’s the most genetic diversity is a pretty good place to look for the place of origin.”

    – so Cichlids originated in Lake Victoria?
    -Finches in the Galapagos?

    There is a fault in logic here – greatest genetic diversity occurs only in areas of little competition – not origination. If dogs found few competitors in east Asia then they could diversify much faster than an origin location with a lot of niche pressure. See Lake Victoria and the Galapagos as examples.

  • conradg

    Steve Verdon: I wonder if that is true in nature. Keep in mind that for dog breeding the selective pressure is man made, not natural.

    Dog breeding doesn’t produce greater genetic diversity. It exploits existing genetics to “bring out” dormant genes and their expression. It may look more diverse, but it actually tends to reduce genetic diversity.

    Look at human genetics. The typical African village has more genetic diversity than the entire human population outside of Africa, even though by appearances the opposite might seem to be the case. The small initial migrations, with intense selection pressures (natural or man-made hardly matters) actually keep genetic diversity small outside of Africa. So the general rule “the more genetic diversity, the close you are to the origins of the species” rings true.

  • Zachriel

    Dave: -Finches in the Galapagos?

    Though the Galápagos Finches exhibit significant morphological diversity, they are closely related genetically. They are so close, in fact, that it is difficult to form clear phylogenetic trees from protein-coding sequences alone. Instead, the most reliable phylogenies use microsatellite DNA length to reconstruct relationships.

    Petren, Grant & Grant, A phylogeny of Darwin’s finches based on microsatellite DNA length variation, Proc. R. Soc. 1999.

    You are right that a simple monotonic measure of diversity is not a true measure of ancestry.

    Nearly all dogs share certain haplotypes that vary only slightly, indicating a common origin. Of ten subhaplogroups examined, all ten are found in East Asia, with fewer of these haplotypes the farther they are from East Asia . This supports a common origin in and diversification from East Asia. If dogs originated elsewhere, then we wouldn’t expect to see Asians to exhibit haplotypes found in separate areas.

    Ding et al., Origins of domestic dog in Southern East Asia is supported by analysis of Y-chromosome DNA, Nature 2011.

    This diagram may help:

  • Hmm.. yes, it makes sense. After all, they started as a dietary supplement, which they are now in many places in East Asia 😉

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