While dogs have been man's best friend for more than 10,000 years, a study of their remains found that early dogs likely arrived from Siberia and left a cancerous tumour that is still found in their canine descendants. It may, but not in the way you think.
"This paper makes really clear that the ancient American dog appears to have nearly entirely vanished, though nobody seems to have any good explanations for why", said Elinor Karlsson, a University of MA professor who studies dog genetics and was not involved in the research, which was published Thursday in Science.
"If there were millions and millions of dogs all over this continent, and a small number of European dogs came in, there would have been plenty of time for them to do what dogs do, which is mate with each other and leave their DNA behind", Karlsson said. And what breeds today can call them ancestors? Genetic traces of these dogs have largely vanished, even when we look at breeds still considered to be "native American" like Chihuahuas, Mexican hairless dogs, and South American village dogs. The ancient dogs analyzed in the new study likely originated in Siberia, the researchers found.
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"Few modern dogs have any trace of these ancient lineages", said Witt, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Merced. "The genome that it has is the genome of the very, very first" dog to get the disease.
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"This study demonstrates that the history of humans is mirrored in our domestic animals", says the study's senior author Greger Larson from Oxford University.
It suggests the first domesticated dogs to arrive in the Americas were brought by humans migrating from Asia, only to be later wiped out when Europeans began regularly making their way to the New World starting in the 15th century.
"It is known how Indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered from the genocidal practices of European colonists after contact", author Ripan Malhi, an anthropology professor at the University of IL, explains. Instead, the analysis confirmed, the dogs were most closely related to an ancient Eastern Siberian stock. But though this lineage thrived for centuries, it seems their fate was inextricably tied to the indigenous people who were killed by the Europeans.
The team also discovered a link between the pre-contact dogs and the canine transmissible venereal tumor or CTVT.
Using genetic information from 71 archaeological dog remains from North America and Siberia, an worldwide team led by researchers at the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London, and Durham University showed that "native" (or "pre-contact") American dogs, which arrived alongside people over 10,000 years ago and dispersed throughout North and South America, possessed genetic signatures unlike dogs found anywhere else in the world.
"I just find it really surprising, " says geneticist Elinor Karlsson from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, who did not participate in the study. "We suspect that a lot of the reasons [ancient] dogs were wiped out, were similar reasons that Native American populations were destroyed", Perri said.