American Dogs’ Ancestry May Be Mostly Asian, Says DNA Study

A new American dogs ancestry study revealed that native American dogs are far from extinct. An international analysis of American dog DNA reveals that 30 percent or less of the genetic material in American dog breeds comes from European dogs.

An earlier theory held that native American dog breeds were wiped out with the arrival of the European settlers, who brought their own dogs.

Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, along with colleagues from Portugal, compared mitochondrial DNA from Asian, European, and American dogs, as well as ancient American archeological samples. Mitochondrial DNA is genetic material that is passed down through the female line.

Peter Savolainen, one of the evolutionary geneticists who worked on the project, said in a statement:

“Our results confirm that American dogs are a remaining part of the indigenous American culture, which underscores the importance of preserving these populations.”

The team traced American dogs’ ancestry back to the East Asian and Siberian dogs that would have entered America with the first humans who crossed the Beringia land bridge between eastern Siberia and Alaska. That so-called land bridge has been underwater for thousands of years because of rising sea levels.

The genetic analysis was precise enough to allow the researchers to link modern breeds with fossil dog remains.

Savolainen stated: “[T]he Mexican breed, Chihuahua, shared a DNA type uniquely with Mexican pre-Columbian samples. This gives conclusive evidence for the Mexican ancestry of the Chihuahua.”

A Live Science report explained that the team collected the DNA using cheek swabs from several purebred American breeds as well as from strays. The pure breeds included iconic varieties like Alaskan malamutes and Peruvian hairless dogs as well as the Mexican Chihuahuas.

However, the team made an interesting discovery with the 19 stray dogs they swabbed in the Carolinas. “Most people thought they were just runaway European dogs.” Savolainen said. However, they too had Asian DNA.

Are you surprised to learn that our American dogs’ ancestry is so strongly Asian?

[photo credit: DCCXLIX via photopin cc]