Science Ticker | Science News

Be a Champion for Science

Get your subscription to

Science News when you join.

Science Ticker

Your daily roundup of research news

Science News Staff

Science Ticker

Science Ticker

Dog DNA study maps breeds across the world

dog breeds

With a new dataset, man digs into the genetic history of his best friend.

Sponsor Message

Mapping the relationships between different dog breeds is rough (get it?), but a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health did just that using the DNA of 1,346 dogs from 161 breeds. Their analysis, which appears April 25 in Cell Reports, offers a lot to chew on.

Here are five key findings from the work:

Dogs were bred for specific jobs, and this shows in their genes.

As human lifestyles shifted from hunting and gathering to herding to agriculture and finally urbanization, humans bred dogs (Canis familiaris) accordingly. Then over the last 200 years, more and more breeds emerged within those categories. Humans crossed breeds to create hybrids based on appearance and temperament, and those hybrids eventually became new breeds. 

DNA from hybrid dogs backs up historical records.

Genetic backtracking indicates that, for example, mixing between bulldogs and terriers traces back to Ireland between 1860 and 1870. That timeframe and location coincides with historical records indicating a dog-fighting fad that’s linked with crossing breeds to make better fighters.

Geography also matters. 

While herder dog breeds showed a lot of genetic diversity, they fall into two general groups from the rural United Kingdom and the Mediterranean on the breed family tree. When humans switched from hunting to farming, herding breeds may have emerged independently in different areas. Geography could also explain why these two groups use different herding tactics.

New World dogs aren’t all immigrants.

A genetic legacy of America's early canine inhabitants lives on in some of today's breeds. Dogs trekked to the Americas from Asia with people more than 10,000 years ago, but when European groups started to colonize the Americas, they brought European dog breeds with them. Past studies suggest that outside breeds largely replaced New World dogs, but the new dataset shows New World dog DNA actually does persist in a few modern New World breeds, such as Chihuahuas.

Big dogs evolved independently to be big.

European mastiffs and Mediterranean sheepdogs don’t share recent changes in their DNA, meaning their size traits arose separately and for different reasons. While both breed groups specialize in guarding things, mastiffs use their size to intimidate humans, while sheepdogs use their size to overpower animal predators. Larger size may have been one of the first traits that human breeders zeroed in on, the researchers suspect.

Science & Society

Watch the March for Science in Washington, D.C.

By Science News 6:00am, April 22, 2017
Watch the live stream of the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on April 22.
Planetary Science

In ‘grand finale,’ Cassini spacecraft sets off on collision course with Saturn

By Ashley Yeager 7:00am, April 21, 2017
The Cassini spacecraft will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrate on Sept. 15, but is slated to do some solid science before its demise.
Oceans,, Pollution

The Arctic is a final garbage dump for ocean plastic

By Thomas Sumner 2:10pm, April 19, 2017
Ocean currents dump plastic garbage from the North Atlantic into previously pristine Arctic waters, new research shows.
Biomedicine,, Animals

Frog slime protein fights off the flu

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, April 19, 2017
Urumin, a protein found in Indian frog mucus secretions, has a knack for taking down H1 flu viruses, a new study finds.
Planetary Science

Bubbles may put mysterious fizz in Titan’s polar sea

By Ashley Yeager 11:00am, April 18, 2017
Nitrogen bubbles may be the source of the “magic island” on Saturn’s moon Titan.
Animals,, Evolution

Size matters to lizards, but numbers may not

By Helen Thompson 4:00pm, April 14, 2017
Scientists have sized up the quantitative abilities of lizards and found that reptiles may not be as good with numbers as other vertebrates.
Ecology,, Animals,, Earth

Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony

By Helen Thompson 2:00pm, April 12, 2017
Penguin poop dumps data on how a Gentoo colony responded to ancient volcanic eruptions.
Climate,, Oceans,, Ecosystems

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing a major coral bleaching event right now

By Thomas Sumner 3:45pm, April 11, 2017
A second coral bleaching event has struck the Great Barrier Reef in 12 months, new observations reveal, raising concerns about the natural wonder’s future.

Bedbugs bugged prehistoric humans, too

By Laurel Hamers 9:00am, April 10, 2017
Scientists have found the oldest known specimens of bedbug relatives in an Oregon cave system where ancient humans once lived.
Astronomy,, Physics

Event Horizon Telescope to try to capture images of elusive black hole edge

By Emily Conover 5:00am, April 5, 2017
Network of radio observatories will attempt a first-ever glimpse at an event horizon.
Subscribe to RSS - Science Ticker