All dogs originated in one tiny part of East Asia

If man evolved in Africa, where did man's best friend come from? Scientists thought the first dogs came from the Middle East, but a new study of dog genetics suggests they actually come from one small region of modern China.

Previous archaeological and genetic evidence had pointed to dog domestication happening in the Middle East somewhere between 30,000 and 9,000 years ago, but Dr. Peter Savolainen from Sweden's KTH Royal Institute of Technology thinks his team has found strong proof that that isn't the case. Instead, he points to the part of East Asia south of the Yangtze River as where the ancestors of all living dogs were first domesticated. Even if dogs were domesticated elsewhere, it would seem all other lines went extinct.

Savolainen examined dog genetics from throughout the world. About half of the dog gene pool is present in all regions of the world, but there was only one place where you could find the complete range of genetic diversity, and that was south of the Yangtze River. Much as human genetic drift means that the highest range of genetic diversity is found in Africa, this too points to the founding population of all modern dogs coming from this part of East Asia.

Dr. Savolainen explains:

Our analysis of Y-chromosomal DNA now confirms that wolves were first domesticated in Asia south of Yangtze River — we call it the ASY region — in southern China or Southeast Asia. Taken together, the two studies provide very strong evidence that dogs originated in the ASY region. Our results confirm that Asia south of the Yangtze River was the most important — and probably the only — region for wolf domestication, and that a large number of wolves were domesticated. Since other studies have indicated that wolves were domesticated in the Middle East, we wanted to be sure nothing had been missed. We find no signs whatsoever that dogs originated there."

According to this new study, the only way that other regions contributed to the doggy gene pool was through crossbreeding between dogs and local wolves. However, Savolainen says that this played only a very minor role in the formation of the modern dog genetic diversity.

Via Heredity. Image by nicoretro on Flickr.