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New genetic study shows dogs and wolves had a common ancestor

Dogs and wolves had a common ancestor and the prevailing concept that dogs were domesticated from wolves is too simplistic to account for the genetic closeness of all dog species to each other according to new research conducted by John Novembre, associate professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, and colleagues published in the Jan. 16, 2014 edition of the journal Public Library of Science Genetics.

Figure depicts wolf and dog lineages as they diverge over time.
Figure depicts wolf and dog lineages as they diverge over time.
Freedma, et al / PLoS Genetics

The researchers examined the genome of three species of wolves from China, Croatia and Israel where dog domestication is known to have had an early origin. The scientists examined the genome of two breeds of dogs: a basenji that originates in central Africa, and a dingo from Australia, and a jackal to introduce the potential for earlier divergence of dogs from wolves than is presently seen.

The researchers found that all dog species regardless of their area of origin are more closely related to each other than the dogs are to wolves. Likewise all species of wolves are more closely related to each other than to dogs.

The findings argue for an early ancestor of both dogs and wolves and possibly several early ancestors of both animals. The remains of any such ancestor have yet to be found in the fossil record.

Present thought that dogs descended from wolves has been complicated by breeding between dogs and wolves that occurred after the two species split from a common ancestor.