18,000-year-old ‘puppy’ found in Siberian ice was a wolf, according to its genome

It was in the summer of 2018 that the little animal appeared in the permafrost of Siberia, near the Indigirka River in northeastern Russia. And despite its some 18,000 years, it turned out to be in an excellent state of preservation, still sporting its hair, its mustaches, its muzzle, its claws. Enough to give a clear image of the specimen as it was before its death.

However, the doubt remained: Dogor, as the scientists nicknamed him, was he a dog, a wolf or even a form of transition between the two? After new analyses, the verdict is in: this little male, estimated to be less than two months old, is indeed a wolf (Canis lupus) and is not closely related to early dogs.

Our research revealed that Dogor is a wolf. He would have lived towards the end of the last ice age, so he would be an ancestor of many of the wolves who live today“, explained Dr. Dave Stanton, researcher at Queen Mary University of London and co-author of the study published at the end of June in the journal Nature.

72 wolf genomes reviewed

This work was not just about the small Siberian specimen. The latter was part of a large analysis carried out on 72 ancient genomes dating back up to 100,000 years from Europe, Siberia and North America. Objective: trace the history of wolves and better understand when their domestication took place to give birth to dogs.

We know that dogs were the first domesticated animals long ago during the Ice Age” about 15,000 years ago, started for LiveScience, Anders Bergström, researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London and first author of the report. But when, how and where did this domestication take place? It is the mystery that persists.

We don’t know where it happened. We don’t know what human group was involved and we don’t know if it happened once or more“, he confirmed. It is to find out more that the researchers were interested in 66 old genomes – including that of Dogor – never sequenced yet coupled with six others already studied.

The analysis showed that wolves thrived during the last Ice Age as genetically connected populations on a global scale. Connections that can be explained”probably by the high mobility of wolves in an open landscape“, note the scientists in their report.

A domestication scenario to be specified

More surprising results, however, emerged on the dog-wolf bond. The genomes indicated that dogs, both ancient and modern, were genetically closer to ancient wolves in Asia than to those in Europe, suggesting that domestication may have occurred somewhere in eastern Asia and not Europe. .

Likewise, dogs from northeastern Europe, Siberia, and the Americas showed a single shared origin from this eastern source. At the same time, however, dogs from the Middle East, Africa, and southern Europe appeared to exhibit, in addition to this East Asian source, origins associated with Middle Eastern wolves.

These findings suggest either that domestication occurred independently within eastern and western wolves, or that once domesticated in Asia, the dogs moved west and mixed with local wolf populations. The study of genomes does not provide enough clues to decide.

Whatever the scenario, the phenomenon would have occurred more than 7,200 years ago, which corresponds to the age of the oldest dog known and discovered in the Middle East. A specimen that exhibits both eastern and western genetic characteristics. The analysis of new genomes could help clarify the domestication scenario.

Through this project, we have significantly increased the number of ancient wolf genomes sequenced, allowing us to create a detailed picture of wolf ancestry over time, including the period corresponding to dog origins.“, concluded Anders Bergström in a press release.

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