Sledge dogs are closely related to 9,500-year-old 'ancient dog'

June 25, 2020

Dogs play an important role in human life all over the world - whether as a family member or as a working animal. But where the dog comes from and how old various groups of dogs are is still a bit of a mystery.

Now, light has been shed on the origin of the sledge dog. In a new study published in SCIENCE, researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, show that the sledge dog is both older and has adapted to the Arctic much earlier than thought. The research was conducted in collaboration with the University of Greenland and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Barcelona.

'We have extracted DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, which the dog is named after. Based on that DNA we have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date, and the results show an extremely early diversification of dogs into types of sledge dogs', says one of the two first authors of the study, PhD student Mikkel Sinding, the Globe Institute.

Until now, it has been the common belief that the 9,500-year-old Siberian dog, Zhokhov, was a kind of ancient dog - one of the earliest domesticated dogs and a version of the common origin of all dogs. But according to the new study, modern sledge dogs such as the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the Greenland sledge dog share the major part of their genome with Zhokhov.

'This means that modern sledge dogs and Zhokhov had the same common origin in Siberia more than 9,500 years ago. Until now, we have thought that sledge dogs were only 2-3,000 years old', says the other first author, Associate Professor Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Globe Institute.

The Original Sledge Dog

To learn more about the origins of the sledge dog, researchers have further sequenced genomes of a 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf and ten modern Greenlandic sledge dogs. They have compared these genomes to genomes of dogs and wolves from around the world.

'We can see that the modern sledge dogs have most of their genomes in common with Zhokhov. So, they are more closely related to this ancient dog than to other dogs and wolves. But not just that - we can see traces of crossbreeding with wolves such as the 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf - but not with modern wolves. It further emphasises that the origin of the modern sledge dog goes back much further than we had thought', says Mikkel Sinding.

The modern sledge dogs have more genetic overlap with other modern dog breeds than Zhokhov has, but the studies do not show us where or when this occurred. Nevertheless, among modern sledge dogs, the Greenland sledge dogs stands out and has the least overlap with other dogs, meaning that the Greenland sledge dog is probably the most original sledge dog in the world.

Common Features with Inuit and Polar Bears

In addition to advancing the common understanding of the origin of sledge dogs, the new study also teaches the researchers more about the differences between sledge dogs and other dogs. Sledge dogs do not have the same genetic adaptations to a sugar and starch rich diet that other dogs have. On the other hand, they have adaptations to high-fat diets, with mechanisms that are similar to those described for polar bears and Arctic people.

'This emphasises that sledge dogs and Arctic people have worked and adapted together for more than 9,500 years. We can also see that they have adaptations that are probably linked to improved oxygen uptake, which makes sense in relation to sledding and give the sledding tradition ancient roots', says Shyam Gopalakrishnan.
-end-


University of Copenhagen The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Related Dogs Articles from Brightsurf:

Dogs are sensitive to their owners' choice despite their own preference
Inspired by work on infants, researchers investigated whether dogs' behaviors are guided by human displays of preference or by the animals' own choices.

Researchers identify new Rickettsia species in dogs
Researchers have identified a new species of Rickettsia bacteria that may cause significant disease in dogs and humans.

Paleogenomics -- the prehistory of modern dogs
An international team of scientists has used ancient DNA samples to elucidate the population history of dogs.

Tracking the working dogs of 9/11
A study of search and rescue dogs led by the School of Veterinary Medicine showed little difference in longevity or cause of death between dogs at the disaster site and dogs in a control group.

Fighting like cats and dogs?
We are all familiar with the old adage ''fighting like cat and dog'', but a new scientific study now reveals how you can bid farewell to those animal scraps and foster a harmonious relationship between your pet pooch and feline friend.

Why cats have more lives than dogs when it comes to snakebite
Cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite than dogs, and the reasons behind this strange phenomenon have been revealed by University of Queensland research.

Adolescence is ruff for dogs too
The study, headed by Dr Lucy Asher from Newcastle University, is the first to find evidence of adolescent behavior in dogs.

Urban dogs are more fearful than their cousins from the country
Inadequate socialisation, inactivity and an urban living environment are associated with social fearfulness in dogs.

Veterinarians: Dogs, too, can experience hearing loss
Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise.

Dogs and wolves are both good at cooperating
A team of researchers have found that dogs and wolves are equally good at cooperating with partners to obtain a reward.

Read More: Dogs News and Dogs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.