Man’s best friend has Asian roots and some may be all-American, according to a new study that links indigenous American dog breeds to ancient Asia.
In the study published Tuesday in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, genetic researchers found that American dogs’ ancestry not only traces back to East Asian and Siberian dogs, but also found direct relations between ancient American dogs and modern breeds.
Indigenous American breeds like the Chihuahua, Peruvian hairless dogs and Arctic sled dogs have a purer pedigree than previously thought. They have genetic roots that date back 1,000 years or more and have not mixed with European breeds, NPR reports.
“They are all equally American,” co-author Peter Savolainen told Discovery News. “They originate from the indigenous Indian-American and Inuit dog populations, and have only marginally been mixed with European dogs in modern time.”
Savolainen compared the mitochondrial DNA from Asian and European dogs, American dog breeds and ancient American archaeological samples to discover that 30 percent of the dogs’ DNA came from Europe, which may indicate that dogs came to the Americas with ancient humans during pre-Columbian times.
Savolainen was particularly surprised to discover that the Chihuahua shared a DNA type with its ancient ancestors. "This gives conclusive evidence for the Mexican ancestry of the Chihuahua," Savolainen said.
The Carolina dog also brought new information. Genetic evidence shows they came from Asia, not Europe as previously suspected. "Most people thought they were just runaway European dogs," Savolainen told LiveScience.
Dogs are believed to have originated in Asia. According to Savolainen, previous studies show they most likely came from southern China. While the earliest known archaeological evidence for dogs in the Americas dates back to around 10,000 years ago, long before Europeans landed on the continent 500 years ago – most U.S. dogs today have European roots.
“Nobody knows exactly what happened,” Savolainen told Discovery News. “Most probably migrated together with the humans that entered America from Asia via the Bering Strait. Our data shows dogs came in several migrations, at least one with the Indian-American ancestors and at least one with the Inuit ancestors.”
But dogs like Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog, don’t have European genes. Much like Native Americans, they were in the Americas before Europeans arrived.
According to Savolainen, the indigenous breeds hold a key to an ancient human culture that created them.
"These are [a] remaining part of the indigenous cultures — the Indian and Inuit culture — in America," Savolainen told NPR. "And that makes it more important that these populations ... are preserved."