New Study Places the Origin of Dogs in Southeast Asia

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This fall, we wrote about a recent genetic study pinpointing the origins of domestic canines near what would be Mongolia and Nepal today. Now, new research being presented this week in the journal Cell Research suggests that dogs first appeared in Southeast Asia rather than the middle of the continent. 

Peter Savolainen of the KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and Ya-Ping Zhang of the Kunming Institute of Zoology in China, along with their colleagues, sequenced the genetic profiles of 58 members of the dog family. The specimens they sampled included gray wolves, indigenous dogs of East Asia, village dogs from Nigeria, and breeds from around the world, including the Afghan hound and the Siberian husky. Out of all the populations they looked at, the dogs from Southeast Asia were shown to have the highest degrees of genetic diversity and were most closely related to the gray wolves dogs are thought to have descended from. 

The authors suggest that humans first domesticated dogs in Southeast Asia 33,000 years ago, and that about 15,000 years ago a subset of dog ancestors began to migrate toward the Middle East and Africa. Their movement was likely inspired by that of their human companions, but it’s also possible that they began their journey independently. One possible motivating factor could have been melting glaciers, which started retreating approximately 19,000 years back. It wasn’t until 5000 years after they first began spreading out from Southeast Asia that dogs are thought to have reached Europe. Before finally making their way to the Americas, one of these groups doubled-back to Asia where they interbred with dogs that had migrated to northern China. If only more of today’s pets were that active.