Researchers interested in the origin of the domestic dog have long thought that modern sled dogs such as the Greenland sled dog, Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malaute breeds were only about 2000 to 3000 years old. These breeds were thought to be relatively young companed to the many thousands of years dogs have been associated with human beings.
But new research by the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen in collaboration with the University of Greenland and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Barcelona tells a different story. The researchers extracted the DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov for which the ancient dog is named and compared it to the genome of our modern sled dog breeds.
Modern sled dogs share most of their genetic material with this ancient Zhokhov dog so they are much more closely related to this dog than to wolves and other dogs. The most interesting finding was that modern sled dog breeds show evidence of crossbreeding with ancient wolves as old as the 33,000 year old Siberian wolf.
But the evidence for crossbreeding with modern wolves is lacking. So it turns out that the origin of our modern sled dog breeds go back many, many thousands of years, much more than the two to three thousand years that we had originally thought.
The modern sled dog breeds have adaptations to a high fat diet, unlike other modern dog breeds which have genetic adaptations to be able to digest a high starch and sugar diet. This parallels the adaptations to high fat diets of Arctic peoples and to polar bears, suggesting that sled dogs have been associated with Arctic peoples for more than 9,500 years.
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