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Domestic dogs came from Asia to America

By JW Dowey - 10 Jul 2013 8:47:46 GMT
Domestic dogs came from Asia to America

The Xoloitzcuintli or Mexican hairless dog had an Aztec language for His Master's Voice - Mexican Xoloitzcuintli dog image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Before Columbus landed his ships' dogs, our longest-lasting domestic helper had already invaded the Americas. With South Siberian peoples and others, the genetics of modern native breeds shows up ancient origins rather than just 1492.

While European dog genes have replaced those of the feral street dogs throughout America, North and South, the more precious breeds used by humans have retained mainly Asian genetic links. These are the Inuit, Eskimo, and Greenland, Malamute, Chihuahua, plus the Xoloitzcuintli and Perro Sin Pelo del Peru (both hairless dogs) breeds. Apart from some doubt about the Alaskan Malamute, every single one was pre-Columbian. The Mexican Chihuahua even shares a unique set of genes with ancient Mexican dogs. Even one or to feral dogs still retain high proportions of Asian genes, which is possibly why the "Carolina Dog" resembles the dingo sun-species of the domestic Canis familiaris. This particular example is found only in South Carolina and Georgia

Recently, we have established genetically that southern Asian areas were the epicentre of dog evolution, to growls of disapproval from the Middle East, which was previously regarded as the origin of dogs. Barbara van Asch and her multinational team from Portugal, Sweden, the US and China used the DNA from mitochondria to study maternal lines in all of the dogs they could find. They noted their history before Columbus catastrophic entry into America. This involved working animals as well-adapted for their (obvious task) as the Indian Hare Dog and the Tahitian Bear Dog.

Both extinct, they still indicate how profitable it was for humans to exploit characteristics of dogs in their hunting. As well as hunting, sledging, transport, protection and lap-dog functions existed. Religion and medicine were also utilising the dog with the obvious current addition of the food dog,. Several South American breeds owe their origins to Spanish and other conquerors, in a similar way to the Alaskan Husky and the Eskimo Dog in America.

There is clear evidence then, for Asian ancestors of some living American dog breeds. There are only 30% of the female lineages with European haplotypes. These are the gene groups geneticists use to identify any species' or variety's uniqueness. The Chihuahua has a really wonderful link with the ancients, stretching back through a thousand years. A neat dog/wolf hybridisation is also suspected in one pre-Columbian Alaskan dog.

How close are the feral American dogs to their ancient Asian relatives? They have been much more affected by European influxes? The only real evidence is for the Carolina Dog with an East Asian haplotype. Various South American dogs are clearly related to European dogs. One possible happy exception are the Puerto Rican street dogs, so get out there in the streets guys, and study them! They could have connections with ancient Chihuahua and huskies. The erudite authors publish today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Future studies promise a great deal on how these animals and their human partners crossed the Pacific, shedding light on the American experience of humans particularly. The dog's contribution was to provide essential services, for these people may not have survived without them.

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