“The wolf is the first domesticated species and the only large carnivore humans ever domesticated,” said biologist Robert Wayne.
Wolves likely were domesticated by European hunter–gatherers more than 18,000 years ago and gradually evolved into dogs that became household pets, UCLA life scientists report.
“We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them,” said Robert Wayne, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science and senior author of the research. “This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found.”
The UCLA researchers’ genetic analysis is published Nov. 15 in the journal Science and featured on the journal’s cover.
In related research last May, Wayne and his colleagues reported at the Biology of Genomes meeting in New York the results of their comparison of the complete nuclear genomes of three recent wolf breeds (from the Middle East, East Asia and Europe), two ancient dog breeds and the boxer dog breed.
“We analyzed those six genomes with cutting-edge approaches and found that none of those wolf populations seemed to be closest to domestic dogs,” Wayne said. “We thought one of them would be, because they represent wolves from the three possible centers of dog domestication, but none was. All the wolves formed their own group, and all the dogs formed another group.”
The UCLA biologists also hypothesized at that conference that a now-extinct population of wolves was more directly related to dogs.