Discovery Adds New Detail to Dog Ancestry
For years researchers have believed that dogs and wolves used to be part of the same pack. However, a recent study may prove otherwise. The recent study of teeth and a rib from a Taimyr wolf revealed that dogs and wolves became two different species between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago.
According to The New York Times, the artifact was part of teeth and a jawbone from this species of wolf, which may be one of the oldest species in existence. The bone was discovered many years ago on the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia.
Making new strides
Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Stockholm University and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT came together in 2014 to examine this bone artifact. They rebuilt the bone's genome, which was the first time the procedure had been done on any type of ancient carnivore. The genome reconstruction proved this was a species all its own, which the scientists dubbed the Taimyr wolf. Using the data from this species, they constructed an entire family tree that included modern dogs and wolves. Once the tree was complete, it showed that dogs and wolves divided in species much earlier than they thought.
The website Live Science noted the tree showed a middle group between modern day wolves and modern dogs, which consists of breeds such as Greenland sled dogs, Siberian Huskies, Finnish Spitz and the Chinese Shar-Pei. The research revealed that all of these breeds have some direct genes from the Taimyr wolf.
"Siberian Huskies have a portion of their genome that traces back exclusively to this ancient Siberian wolf," lead author Pontus Skoglund, Ph.D., told Live Science. "It's pretty amazing that there is a special genetic connection to a wolf that roamed the tundra 35,000 years ago."
While there was a clean break when dogs and wolves became two different species, the lineage following the division is unclear. The study authors noted that within the past 10,000 years, there has been interbreeding between dogs and wolves, making the story of domesticated dogs a little fuzzier. Yet the research did prove one thing: dogs were domesticated almost 30,000 years ago. The science behind the bone fragment may suggest domestication of some sort, but it does not prove whether a dog was living with a human or not. However, these details may contribute to a better understanding of the human Paleolithic lifestyle. If dogs were around hunter-gatherers, they might have influenced the people's hunting techniques.
In the past, scientists believed that dogs' direct descendants were gray wolves. Now, several genetic studies have proven that wolves and dogs have a common ancestor, but they were not directly related. Scientists do not believe that the Taimyr is the wolf that connects the two species. However, these recent findings about the Taimyr wolf do lead researchers one step closer to the mystery wolf.
The Taimyr bones were initially discovered by Love Dalen, one of the study's researchers who works at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Dalen was with his colleagues in the Taimyr Penisula a few years ago to collect bone fragments from several ancient mammals. He was not expecting to collect any bones of wolves. Instead, when he came upon the fragment, he believed it was from an ancient reindeer. However, genetic testing proved that it was from an ancient wolf species. Scientists carbon dated the bone and found that it was from about 35,000 years ago. Once he realized how old it was, Skoglund suggested that they sequence the genome. While this research does not deliver a simple answer, it does get researchers one step closer to deciphering a very complicated puzzle: the domestication of the dog.