Lab Studies Cast New Light on Canine DomesticationMarcusCannon
Lab Studies Cast New Light on Canine Domestication
Research on a pair of fossilised puppies, found five years ago in Russia, is changing theories regarding the evolution and domestication of dogs. The rare discovery of the 12,460-year-old fossils in the Russian region of Yakutia has inspired scientists from all around the world who have travelled to Russia in hopes of understanding how dogs evolved from wolves to become man’s best friend.
Work on the puppies is being overseen by Sergei Fyodorov, head of exhibitions at the Mammoth Museum of the North-Eastern Federal University in the regional capital of Yakutsk. Just last month, Fyodorov oversaw the removal of one of the puppy’s fossilised brain – a world-first.
Fyodorov explained the significance: “To find a carnivorous mammal intact with skin, fur and internal organs – this has never happened before in history. Puppies are very rare, because they have thin bones and delicate skulls.”
Scientists are hoping that the dogs prove to be a part of the missing link between wolves and dogs. With every living, domesticated dog descended from wolves, scientists have long debated what spurred the evolution, when this occurred and how the missing links may have appeared.
Another scientist working on the project, evolutionary biologist, Greger Larson, is particularly excited by the potential of this find: “Thus far, the lineages of wolves that likely gave rise to dogs have not yet been discovered and it’s possible that these puppies could be on that lineage, which would be very exciting.”
This research project will take more than a year with the lab teams tasked with the job of reconstructing the puppies’ genomes. It is hoped that the research will shed light on a number of questions which remain unanswered…
- Were dogs domesticated in one place, or several places independently?
- Was the process initiated by humans or wolves?
- Did the domestication pre-date human agriculture?
The puppies were discovered by hunters in the remote Arctic tundra of the Yakutia region, who then alerted Fyodorov to their existence. The extreme temperature and snow were pivotal in preserving the animals so perfectly, and the puppies have been named the Tumat dogs, after the nearest village to their discovery site.
Fyodorov has been vocal about the importance of finding suitable lab conditions for the remains in spite of the university’s rather modest budget. He explained: “Everyone understands that the tissue of mammoth fauna loses its structure with every passing second, even in the freezer.”
Although the remote location and extreme conditions helped to preserve the fossilised puppies originally, these factors (combined with the ever-present red tape) are now compromising the completion of this research opportunity.
However, the changing conditions of the region and the lighter spring months means that more of the snows and frosts of Yakutia are melting and more of the prehistoric secrets are being revealed to the world. This part of the world could hold the answers to many of the world’s most fervently asked questions, about our evolution and the development of the animal kingdom.
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