Genetic analysis reveals how wolves evolved into dogs

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:20 EDT
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A dog hovers over a plate of pasta. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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Genetic sequencing of wolves and domesticated dogs has revealed a key insight into how that evolutionary change happened, finding that it has to do more with human diets than previously expected.

To many dog owners, it probably won’t come as a surprise that food motivation has been a key driver in their pet’s makings, but scientists writing this week for the journal Nature explained that there’s genetic evidence to back up what’s long been mostly anecdotal knowledge of man’s best friend.

Researchers took DNA samples from wolves and dogs and compared the differences, finding a segment of 10 genes among the differentiation that account for dogs’ ability to digest starchy and fatty foods that humans love.

That feeds two different theories about how domestication came about: one which says wolves that could not find meat had to adapt by scavenging from human agricultural settlements, and another that suggests hunters plied wolves with food, developing a symbiotic relationship that saw wolves standing guard around camps at night.

In both scenarios, wolves that were better able to digest human foods became more reliant on people meaning they had an easier time surviving. And the rest is history.

“All dogs studied have this change, which I’d say puts it at least a couple of thousand years back in time,” study author Erik Axelsson told MSNBC. “But we cannot prove that it coincided with the onset of agriculture. This is something we are continuing to work on now.”

This video is from the BBC, published Thursday, January 24, 2013.


Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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