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8 mtDNA Studies of the Origin of Dogs

Peter Savolainen


Population genetic studies of dogs of the last few years, based on sequence analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), has meant a great leap forward in the unraveling of the origin and early history of the domestic dog. Based on the archaeological record, which was earlier the principal source of information, it was not possible to say anything more precise than that the dog probably originated from the wolf some 15,000 years ago. Such basic questions as where this happened, and whether it happened just once or several times at different places, could not be answered. In studies of human history, population genetic analyses of mtDNA have been of considerable importance, establishing the time and place for the first origin of modern humans and monitoring the major migrations (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 2003). In this chapter, we show how, similarly, studies of mtDNA in dogs, starting on a large scale in 1996, have begun to create an increasingly sharper picture of the origin of dogs. Most prominently, two studies from 2002 (Leonard et al. 2002; Savolainen et al. 2002) have given the first solid evidence for the geographic origin of dogs, indicating a single origin in East Asia. The results also show the potential for further, more detailed studies, which should help to map the routes and time points for the first spread of dogs around the world, and to describe the development of morphological variants that eventually resulted in today’s dog breeds.

The domestic dog is perhaps the most fascinating of...

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