The dog is the man’s best friend, and we’ve just discovered how it became one

A Japanese research team has discovered two genetic mutations that would have favored the testing of the dog and transformed it from a wolf to “Fido”

The first animal tamed by man was the dog, it is believed that between 10 and 15 thousand years ago, although some believe that this very strong union between the two species has its roots until 40 thousand years ago years, as shown by the study “Old European dog genomes reveal continuity from the Old Stone Age”. We do not even know where this wonderful story comes from, whether it is in Europe or in Asia; what is certain is that one day, during the Neolithic or Paleolithic, the ancestors of the lupins of the genus Canis began to interact more intimately with humans, perhaps for reasons related to hunting, or perhaps to take advantage of the remains left in the colonies. From this moment began the transformation of the wild species, leading to the birth of the house dog (Canis lupus familiaris). Today, there are hundreds of breeds (some unlucky), but they all belong to the same species, from the little Chihuahua to the giant Grand Dane. To allow for this transition, of course, there was a genetic modification that tamed the “wolf”; A new study has shown that two specific mutations in a gene may have aided the domestication process, enabling dogs to develop the behavioral and cognitive traits that underlie interaction and communication with humans.

A Japanese research team led by scientists from the Department of Veterinary Science and the Center for Human-Animal Symbiosis Science at Azabu University discovered the genetic mutations that would have facilitated the domestication of the dog. The researchers, coordinated by Professor Miho Nagasawa, came to their conclusions after conducting specific experiments with 624 breeds belonging to several breeds. They first divided dogs into two main groups: ancestral or ancient breeds, which include dogs that are genetically closer to wolves (such as husky and akita); and general breeds, meaning all dogs considered to be distant from wolves, such as pugs and beagles. The researchers subjected them to specific tests to analyze their cognitive abilities in social interaction. In the first experiment, as mentioned in a Japanese university press release, dogs had to find food hidden under bowls by following people’s “suggestions”, such as knocking and pointing to the right bowl. In this experiment, the researchers assessed the dogs’ communication skills and their understanding of human gestures. In the second test, the dogs had to try to open a container to retrieve the food inside; in this case, the time the dogs spent observing the researchers, and the frequency of staring, were assessed to assess the animals’ dependence and attachment to humans. By crossing all the data, it was found that the ancient breeds closest to the wolf spent less time looking at humans, a result that indicates a reduced attachment to humans. In other words, ancestral dogs retain a larger percentage of the wild, independent disposition. There were no racial differences in the first experiment.

Subsequently, Professor Nagasawa and his colleagues took samples from the dogs and subjected them to sequencing tests, looking for differences in genes associated with cognitive abilities in human interactions between ancient and general breeds. The researchers looked at gene polymorphisms in genes encoding oxytocin, oxytocin receptor and melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2R), as well as a gene linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBSCR17), which in humans manifests itself in an extroverted and particularly sociable attitude. behavior even with strangers. All of these genes are considered to be potentially involved in canine taming. They identified two major mutations in the gene for MC2R that were associated with both the correct interpretation of human movements (like those in the first experiment) and prolonged staring at humans during problem-solving tasks (as in the second experiment). In short, these genetic mutations would have played a valuable role in the domestication of the dog, making it less stressed in human presence and helping it develop the basic social and cognitive skills (like the famous sad appearance) that made it our best friend. Details of the research “Identification of genes associated with human-canine communication in canine evolution” have been published in the authoritative scientific journal.

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