China / Society

Dogs 'first domesticated in China'

By CHENG YINGQI (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-27 02:27

Dogs 'first domesticated in China'

Chinese scientists are disputing research that concludes that domesticated dogs evolved 15,000 years ago in Central Asia.

They are arguing that genetic evidence indicates they most likely were first tamed much earlier in southern China.

A research team led by Zhang Yaping from Kunming Institute of Zoology in Yunnan province has questioned the results of previous research, described as the "largest-ever survey of worldwide canine genetic diversity", after reanalyzing the data.

The team's conclusion was published this month as a letter by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a top US-based research journal, and previously by Cell Research, a Chinese Academy of Sciences' publication.

Wang Guodong, an associate professor from the academy's Zoology Institute, said, "For the first time, our study unravels an extraordinary journey that the domestic dog has traveled on Earth."

The Chinese research disagrees with conclusions reached in October by a team of scientists led by Adam Boyko of Cornell University in the United States.

The Cornell research, which analyzed more than 185,800 genetic markers for 4,600 purebred dogs from 165 breeds, along with more than 540 village dogs from 38 countries, concluded that the earliest dogs appeared in Central Asia 15,000 years ago.

Wang said: "First, the definition of Central Asia in the previous research is wrong, because they assigned Mongolia and Nepal to Central Asia. Second, despite its large scale, the research did not include data on dog populations from southern China, which has always been believed to be an important place of origin for domesticated dogs."

Wang also sequenced the genome of indigenous dogs living in the Chinese countryside and compared the data with that of the Cornell research, finding that Chinese dogs existed much earlier.

The team also sequenced 12 gray wolves — the modern dog's ancestor — 27 primitive dogs from Asia and Africa and 19 diverse breeds from across the world.

The scientists said Chinese dogs have significantly more genetic diversity than other populations, and are genetically the closest to gray wolves, indicating that dogs were domesticated in southern East Asia about 33,000 years ago.

Peng Minsheng, an associate professor at the institute who specializes in human and animal genetics, said the origin of dogs, the first domesticated animals, is a significant indicator in anthropological studies.

"Since dogs and humans became friends, dogs have migrated with humans either as watchdogs in agricultural civilizations or as herding dogs for nomads. So the migration path of dogs could reflect that of ancient humans and provide us with evidence for tribes that did not have written records," Peng said.

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