Domestic dogs may have originated in the Middle East

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A study appearing in the journal Nature suggests that domestic dogs originated in the Middle East, not Asia or Europe.

Appearing as a March 17 advance online publication, the genome-wide analysis found that dogs have more genetic similarity to Middle Eastern gray wolves than to any other gray wolves—the ancestors of domestic dogs. Previous genetic research suggested that dogs originated in East Asia, on the basis of the higher diversity of mitochondrial DNA among dogs in that region than anywhere else.

The authors of the new study analyzed DNA samples from more than 900 dogs from 85 breeds and more than 200 wild gray wolves from various worldwide populations. Genotyping chips allowed the international team of scientists to analyze the DNA samples for more than 48,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Most of the dog breeds in the study had a strong kinship with gray wolves from the Middle East. A small set of East Asian dog breeds had genetic similarities to Chinese gray wolves, suggesting some intermixing between East Asian dog breeds and East Asian gray wolves in the past.

The researchers found a correspondence between dogs' genetic groupings and functional breed groupings into categories such as herding dogs, retrievers, sight hounds, and small terriers. Among the exceptions are toy dogs, which have a variety of lineages.

The study also identified a few portions of the genome that are very different between dogs and wolves, which might help explain the divergence of the two species.