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American dog breeds came from Asia, finds genetic study

A study of dog breeds in the Americas indicates that they migrated along with humans from East Asia, and that their genetic legacy has persisted to the present.

'Ears,' a 4-month-old Peruvian hairless dog, goes for a walk in Lima in 2008. A genetic study reveals that American dog breeds living today had their origins in East Asia.

Mariana Bazo/Reuters

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When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba in 1492, he took note of the indigenous domesticated dogs, which the TaĆ­no people called aon. The aon did not bark; according to Columbus, they just whistled, howled, and chortled.

Two years later, faced with starvation, Spanish settlers on La Isabela, the the first formal European settlement in the New World in what is today the Dominican Republic, the Spanish would eat the aon. Other native dog breeds were wiped out by diseases from Europe

Previously, it was thought that America's original dogs were wiped out, replaced by European breeds that arrived with the conquistadors and their successors. That's what genetic studies of some wild dog populations in the Americas had concluded. But recent research indicates that these original American domestic canines, whose ancestors arrived with the first Americans tens of thousands of years ago, have a legacy that continues today.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, an international team of researchers examined mitochondrial DNA drawn from the blood or swabbed from the cheeks of American dogs such as the Chihuahua, Arctic sled dogs, and the Peruvian and Mexican hairless dog breeds. They compared these data with those from Asian and European breeds, as well from dog remains found at ancient American archaeological sites. 

A mitochondrion is a tiny structure inside a cell that, among other important functions, helps convert the chemical energy from food into usable fuel. It has its own DNA, called mtDNA, which is inherited in most species, including dogs and humans, exclusively from the mother.


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