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Dog genetics

 

This magnificent picture on the cover of Science magazine is from the latest report in a series of studies regarding the origins of domestic dogs.

As a window into ongoing evolution and origin of a species within the time frame of human existence this is a fascinating debate. The incredible phenotypic variation exhibited by dogs is a fascinating topic in its own right plus this debate layers onto that the messy complications of a animal whose evolution and adaptation also reflects the complex interventions of human history. Dogs may be particularly unique in this purpose as dog domestication is important for all types of human societies, in every environment from agricultural to nomadic.

This particular study examines the mitochondrial genomes of prehistoric canids obtained from archeological sites.

I agree with the caveats mentioned in the study and by other critics, that the panel of specimens does not include samples from the Middle East or China, two proposed centers of origin. This reminds me of a notable saying from one of my advisors: “the absence of evidence is not evidence for absence”!

Intriguingly the authors suggest that there may be abortive episodes of dog domestication. This makes sense as conditions for domestication were clearly not unique to a particular time and place, once again underscoring the arbitrariness of historical events at the genetic and cellular level.

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