Today’s dogs can trace their origins to Central Asia, according to one of the most comprehensive genetic surveys yet.
Dogs are the most diverse animal on the planet – a legacy of thousands of years of selective breeding by humans.
But they derive from wild wolves that were gradually tamed and inducted into human hunting groups – perhaps near Mongolia or Nepal.
The findings come from an analysis of DNA from thousands of pooches, and are published in PNAS journal.
Cornell University’s Dr Adam Boyko and his colleagues studied 4,676 purebred dogs from recognised breeds, as well as 549 “village dogs” – free-ranging animals that live around human settlements.
This latter group are the least studied, yet represent a crucial piece in the picture of modern dog diversity.
Dog domestication is the kind of event that could have taken place independently in different corners of the globe. But the DNA of modern pooches doesn’t provide any support for this idea.
The researchers studied genes that are located close to one another on dog chromosomes. The patterns of these closely linked genetic markers allowed the team to pinpoint the domestication event to Central Asia.
But several other teams have tackled the same problem, and have come up with widely differing results.
Previous studies have variously hinted at an origin for dogs in the Middle East – perhaps scavenging the food waste of early farmers – in East Asia, and in Europe.