Dog Domestication Likely Began in Africa
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Dog Domestication Likely Began in Africa : Discovery News

Aug. 3, 2009 -- Modern humans originated in Africa, and now it looks like man's best friend first emerged there too.

An extensive genetic study on the ancestry of African village dogs points to a Eurasian -- possibly North African -- origin for the domestication of dogs.
Prior research concluded that dogs likely originated in East Asia. However, this latest study, the most thorough investigation ever on the ancestry of African village dogs, indicates otherwise.

"Village" dogs are local, semi-feral dogs that cluster around human settlements in much of the world.

"I think our results cast some doubt on the hypothesis of an East Asian origin for dog domestication that was put forward based on previous mitochondrial DNA genetic research," lead author Adam Boyko told Discovery News.
Boyko, a research associate in the Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology at Cornell University, and his colleagues looked at three genetic markers for 318 village dogs from seven regions in Egypt, Uganda and Namibia. The scientists performed the same DNA analysis on a number of putatively African dog breeds, as well as on Puerto Rican street dogs and mixed breed dogs from the United States.

The scientists determined genetic diversity was just as high for the African dogs as it was for the East Asian village dogs that were the focus of the earlier research.

"Species tend to show the highest genetic diversity near their place of origin," said Boyko. He explained that this is because the species have "been there longer and therefore have had more time to accumulate diversity, and because as a species expands its range by colonizing a new region, it usually does so with a relatively small band of individuals carrying just a subset of the genetic diversity found in the ancestral population."

Humans might have then first domesticated dogs from wolves in Africa, with Egypt being one possibility, since wolves are native to that region. Many existing wild species of canid, such as the Egyptian jackal, popularly featured in ancient Egyptian art, are now critically endangered.