A recent genetic study has led to the creation of a new family tree for domesticated dogs. Scientists analyzed the genetics of over 1300 dogs from 161 breeds to build this family tree. The result is a genetic map that shows the way different breeds were combined to produce the modern dog breeds.
Research results were published in the scientific journal Cell Reports. In it, scientists identify 23 clusters of breeds that are similar to each other.
The map includes some surprising information. For example, modern dogs are often grouped into categories by function, such as herding dogs and working dogs. But actually, breeds in the same group often aren’t genetically related. Scientists concluded that some traits, such as herding, emerged independently in different groups.
New Genetic Map of Dog Breeds Has Historical and Medical Benefits
Scientists know that dogs were originally selected and bred for particular abilities, such as herding goats. Later breeding, starting about 200 years ago, focused on physical features. For example, the coat type or size rather than function. The historical origins of modern breeds have been rather unknown, until now.
One of the most interesting things about the new map is that it gives clues to the geographic origins of modern dog breeds. Two South American breeds, the Peruvian hairless and the Xoloitzcuintli, may well have arrived in the Americas before Columbus.
The new pool of data used to create the map is also expected to help future medical researchers in several ways. For example, it will help with diagnosing diseases in pets. It could do so by revealing genetic relationships between the breeds. Also, it may aid in the study of human diseases. Dogs and humans share similar diseases, such as epilepsy. As such, it’s easier to identify and study genes associated with particular diseases in dogs than in humans.
Ostrander and Parker, the study leads, considers that they still have work to do on the map and that it’s at a midpoint.
“We had reached a point where we could begin to do some of the things we wanted to do.” Ostrander explains. “By no means are we done.”
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