Monday, June 24, 2013

Dog Domestication Controversy: When, Where And How Many Times?

Interesting article in Nature on advances in our understanding about dog domestication. Apparently it is a "sexy field" of study:

"In recent months, three international teams have published papers comparing the genomes of dogs and wolves. On some matters — such as the types of genetic changes that make the two differ — the researchers are more or less in agreement. Yet the teams have all arrived at wildly different conclusions about the timing, location and basis for the reinvention of ferocious wolves as placid pooches. “It’s a sexy field,” says Greger Larson, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Durham, UK. He has won a £950,000 (US$1.5-million) grant to study dog domestication starting in October. “You’ve got a lot of big personalities, a lot of money, and people who want to get their Nature paper first.”

Fossils and genetic data are in conflict too. Fossil skulls with dog like features dating back to around 33,000 years have been reported from Siberia and Belgium. There is genetic work that suggests that China was where the first dogs were domesticated at a similar early date of around 32,000 years ago. Other scientists feel that these early lineages went extinct without contributing to extant dogs which according to them evolved post ice age maxima beginning around 15,000 years ago or so. Yet others think that dog domestication coincided with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

I think multiple episodes of domestication at various times is an entirely reasonable possibility given that both wolves and humans are hyper social and the opportunities to clash, cooperate and be fascinated with each other would have arisen again and again.

Expect more trading of intellectual blows as genomics will bring a tighter focus on the timing and geography of dog origins.

"The move to look at ancient DNA could make the small field of dog genetics even pricklier, because archaeological bone samples are so precious. Novembre says that he finds the field more fractious than human genetics, and says that his experience has given him pause about future canine work. “It’s really intense in the dog world,” he says. But Boyko, who also collaborates with the Chinese group, says that although the field is competitive, it remains collegial. “At the end of the day, we sit back and enjoy a beer together when we see each other.”

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