Dogs have been man’s best friend for thousands of years, but where that friendship first began has always been up in the air.
Now a new study adds Central Asia to that list, specifically modern-day Nepal and Mongolia.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the genetic data of 4,676 purebred and mixed-breed dogs and 549 “village” dogs, feral and stray dogs that live near humans, from 38 countries.
It’s the largest genetic study of dogs and the first to look at three different genetic markers, Cornell University researcher Ryan Boyko told the New York Times.
The research team analysed genes from the nucleus, the mitochondria, and the male Y chromosomes found in blood samples. The researchers compared the DNA of dogs from different locations and found that dogs from Central Asia, East Asia, India, and Southwest Asia had the most diverse genes.
As people moved their dogs around and selectively breed them over time, we’ve created a situation in which most modern dogs have low genetic diversity. That means the dogs with the highest genetic diversity are likely descended from the oldest dogs, the researchers said.
This finding pointed to Central Asia, specifically Mongolia and Nepal, as the place where “all the dogs alive today” likely came from, Boyko told the New York Times.
Their findings also echoed previous findings that modern dogs emerged about 15,000 years ago, according to the study.
This latest finding doesn’t necessarily close the book on the question. According to the study, there’s a possibility that “dogs were domesticated elsewhere and subsequently arrived and diversified in Central Asia.”
Oxford University researcher Greger Larson, who wasn’t involved in the study, also told the New York Times that the genes of today’s canine populations must be compared to ancient dog DNA to definitively answer the question.
The researchers also maintain that a closer analysis of dogs in Central Asia and the surrounding regions needs to be done, which means Boyko and his colleagues will have to return to the area armed with sandwiches and treats.
But, as he told the New York Times: “The great thing about working with dogs is that if you show up with food, you don’t usually have trouble recruiting subjects.”
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