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    New study on how dogs became man’s best friend

    NewsThursday 24 January 2013


    For just how long has the dog been ‘man’s best friend’? Well, archaeological evidence suggests that the human-canine bond goes back thousands of years. 
    A new study has shown that there are numerous genes shared between modern dogs and wolves that relate to starch metabolism, which suggests that dogs evolved from wolves that were able to scavenge and digest the food wastes of early farmers. 
    This has led to a number of suggestions. One of which is that dogs have evolved from wolves that were used by ancient hunter-gatherer’s as hunting companions or guards, and another has suggested that they have developed from wolves that stole our food leftovers and eventually came to live permanently around humans as a result. 
    This may be the explanation as to why dogs love to rummage around the kitchen bin in search of food.
    Erik Axelsson, from Uppsala University, told the BBC News: "This second hypothesis says that when we settled down, and in conjunction with the development of agriculture, we produced waste dumps around our settlements; and suddenly there was this new food resource, a new niche, for wolves to make use of, and the wolf that was best able to make use of it became the ancestor of the dog.
    "So, we think our findings fit well with this theory that the dog evolved on the waste dump.” He continued. 
    Dr Axelsson and his colleagues examined DNA that was taken from more than 50 modern dogs from breeds as diverse as the cocker spaniel and the German shepherd. Then, they compared their genetic information with those of 12 wolves taken from around the globe. 
    And their results showed that modern dogs have far more genes that help them digest starch, which is something that would have been advantageous in an ancestor scavenging on the discarded wheat and other crop products of early farmers.
    "Wolves also have these genes but they don't use them as efficiently as dogs," said Dr Axelsson.
    "That means the dog is a lot more efficient at making use of the nutrition in starch than the wolf."
    They also studied brain development of the two animals. The dog is a much more docile creature, the likely consequence of early humans preferentially working with animals they found easier to tame.
    "Previous experiments have indicated that when you select for a reduction in aggressiveness, you obviously get a tamer animal but you also get an animal that retains juvenile characteristics much longer during development, sometimes into adulthood," said Dr Axelsson.
    This might go some way to explaining the oft-repeated observation that dogs are permanently stuck in a kind of puppyhood.
    The study of the origin of dogs is still as puzzling as ever, but it is nice to be able to imagine how the dog ended up becoming man’s best friend. 
    So what does everyone think? Any ideas as to the origin of the human-canine bond?
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