According to a new DNA analysis study, dogs have been man’s best friend for 33,000 years. The question of where and when dogs first split off from wolves has long been a topic of controversy among academics.
Some researchers say canines first split off from wolves in Europe; others say it happened in the Middle East. But population genetics expert Peter Savolainen, of Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, is hoping his latest research will finally settle the matter.
Savolainen has long held that dogs originated in South East Asia alone, and he says his team has compiled new evidence that confirms his earlier findings.
His latest study concludes that the split with wolves occuured around 33,000 years ago.
Earlier studies of Savolainen’s were based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Recently however, other researchers have used data from nuclear DNA to refute those findings, arguing that dogs originated in the Middle East, Central Asia or Europe.
But according to Savolainen, those researchers were thrown off the scent. The data they relied on did not include samples from South East Asia, he says. So if, as Savolainen says, dogs did indeed come from South East Asia, these studies would not have been able to detect it.
“Which is why we analysed the entire nuclear genome of a global sample collection from 46 dogs, which includes samples from southern China and South East Asia,” he says. “We then found out that dogs from South East Asia stand out from all other dog populations, because they have the highest genetic diversity and are genetically closest to the wolf.”
Savolainen says this provides strong evidence that the dog originated in South East Asia, which confirms his earlier studies of Mitochondrial DNA.
“We also found that the global dog population is based on two important events: the dog and wolf populations first began to split off about 33,000 years ago in South East Asia. The global spread of dogs followed about 18,000 years later.”
He says one explanation for the split between dogs and wolves 33,000 years ago could be that the wolf population became divided and the south Chinese wolf developed into dogs. In that case, it is possible the global spread of dogs out of South East Asia is associated with domestication.