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Small dogs & wolves in The New York Times

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanMarch 18, 2010 4:45 AM


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A few weeks ago I commented on the paper about the origin of the small dog phenotype in the Middle East. Now The New York Times has an article on a newer paper, New Finding Puts Origins Of Dogs in Middle East. Here's the conclusion:

Dog domestication and human settlement occurred at the same time, some 15,000 years ago, raising the possibility that dogs may have had a complex impact on the structure of human society. Dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from the egalitarianism of their hunter-gatherer predecessors. Notions of inheritance and ownership, Dr. Driscoll said, may have been prompted by the first dogs to permeate human society, laying an unexpected track from wolf to wealth.

Humans are often conceived of as the selection pressure on our domesticates, but clearly this is a two-way street. Cows have strongly shaped the human genome in the form of lactase persistence. And of course there have been many pathogens which have jumped from domesticates to humans, including ones which might change human behavior. The evolutionary process in this conception is a complex series of interactive feedback loops, and the task of reconstruction is going to be a laborious, but fascinating one. And luckily, we have "control" populations who have been little impacted by domesticated animals. Here's the letter in Nature.

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