European canines replaced New World’s ancient breeds

European canines replaced New World’s ancient breeds

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.

"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.

The earliest traces of domesticated dogs in North America are from about 5,000 years after humans first arrived about 15,000 years ago.

"This suggests something catastrophic must have happened, and it's likely associated with European colonization", said senior lead author Laurent Frantz, a lecturer at Queen Mary University and co-investigator at the University of Oxford.

Savolainen, who is unaffiliated with the current study, notes that his and others' research has shown that certain breeds, such as the Carolina dogs, do seem to lack numerous genetic markers found in European-descended dogs. "We suspect that a lot of the reasons [ancient] dogs were wiped out, were similar reasons that Native American populations were destroyed", Perri said. They also believed that the Europeans might have killed the pre-contact dogs because they prefer the breed that they brought from their homelands.

"It's a nice data set, but ancient DNA is a growing field".


Though the original North American dogs are likely gone, they left an inauspicious legacy, in the form of Canine transmissible venereal tumors. Those include arctic dogs brought by the Thule people about 1,000 years ago that are the ancestors of dogs such as malamutes, huskies and Greenland sled dogs; dogs brought by Europeans starting in the 15th century; and Siberian huskies brought to the American Arctic during the Alaskan gold rush.

The new findings reinforce the idea that early human and dog inhabitants of the Americas faced numerous same challenges after European contact, Malhi said. And there is some genetic legacy of those ancient North American dogs. This defies the popular notion that American dogs had evolved from North American wolves.

Confirming earlier work, the researchers found these ancient American dogs have very little in common with modern dogs today, genetically speaking. "People are going to be digging up and sequencing bones all over the Americas", Karlsson said.

Perri did not discount that. Man's best friend, the domesticated dog, didn't arrive for another 6,000 years or so, crossing over just in time to avoid the land bridge's collapse, but archaeological evidence suggests that the two species lived in harmony for thousands of years-at least until 1492, the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

"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. Their relationship can be traced back from the earliest of times.

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