Dogs gave black color to New World wolves and Coyotes

February 7, 2009

(ChattahBox) — Researchers have found that genetic mutation carried by domestic dogs is responsible for the color of black wolves and coyotes in North America. The finding presents a rare instance in which a genetic mutation from a domesticated animal has benefited wild animals by enriching their “genetic legacy,” the scientists write in Thursday’s Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science.Stanford University genetics professor Dr. Greg Barsh said dogs that bred with wolves thousands of years ago ceded a genetic mutation encoding dark coat color to their former ancestors, the university reported Thursday.

“We usually think of domestication as something that is carried out to benefit humans,” Barsh said. “So we were really surprised to find that domestic animals can serve as a genetic reservoir that can benefit the natural populations from which they were derived. It’s also fascinating to think that a portion of the first Native American dogs, which are now extinct, may live on in wolves.”

The study, used DNA collected from wolves in the Canadian Arctic and Yellowstone National Park. Robert K. Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies canine evolution and is a co-author on the Science paper, said in an interview that he believed the mutation occurred first in dogs. But even if it arose first in wolves, he said, it was passed on to dogs who brought it to the New World and then passed it to wolves and coyotes soon after their arrival.

Dr. Wayne and his colleagues have dated the presence of dogs in Alaska to about 14,000 years ago and are now checking ancient dog remains from across the Americas for the mutation.


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