A genetic analysis of the Australian dingo suggests the dogs tagged along on an epic expansion of people out of southern China around 6,000 years ago.
An international team claims dingoes descend from a small group that could have been introduced to Australia in a “single chance event” from Asia.
Evidence from mitochondrial DNA suggests that the wild dogs arrived on the continent around 5,000 years ago.
The work appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues think the introduction of the dogs may be associated with the spread of seafaring Austronesian-speaking people throughout South-East Asia.
The Austronesian culture had its origins in south China, expanding from Taiwan via the Philippines to Indonesia.
Although dingoes are now wild, they descend from domestic dogs that accompanied these Austronesians on their voyages.
The new data comes from an analysis of dingo, dog and wolf mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types. This is the DNA found in the cell’s “power houses”, and it is passed down from parent to offspring on the maternal side only.
On a family tree of mtDNA types in different members of the dog family, dingoes sit on a major branch alongside 70% of domestic dog sequences.
All the dingo mtDNA types either belonged to or showed great similarity to a single type called A29.
DNA links dingoes to an expansion out of southern China
Studies of dingo physiques suggest they are very similar to Indian pariah dogs and wolves. This has led some researchers to propose that seafaring peoples from India may have introduced them to Australia.
But among domestic dogs, A29 is found only in East Asia, suggesting the dogs’ origins lie here, rather than on the Indian subcontinent. The researchers analysed mtDNA sequences in 211 dingoes and compared them to a world-wide sample of 676 dogs.
When Europeans arrived in Australia, the dingo was widespread, living mostly as a wild animal. However, some Aboriginal groups kept them as pets or as hunting dogs.
And the DNA study for more detail
A detailed picture of the origin of the Australian dingo, obtained from the study of mitochondrial DNA
Peter Savolainen*,†, Thomas Leitner‡, Alan N. Wilton§, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith¶, and Joakim Lundeberg*
To determine the origin and time of arrival to Australia of the dingo, 582 bp of the mtDNA control region were analyzed in 211 Australian dingoes sampled in all states of Australia, 676 dogs from all continents, and 38 Eurasian wolves, and 263 bp were analyzed in 19 pre-European archaeological dog samples from Polynesia. We found that all mtDNA sequences among dingoes were either identical to or differing by a single substitution from a single mtDNA type, A29. This mtDNA type, which was present in >50% of the dingoes, was found also among domestic dogs, but only in dogs from East Asia and Arctic America, whereas 18 of the 19 other types were unique to dingoes. The mean genetic distance to A29 among the dingo mtDNA sequences indicates an origin ≈5,000 years ago. From these results a detailed scenario of the origin and history of the dingo can be derived: dingoes have an origin from domesticated dogs coming from East Asia, possibly in connection with the Austronesian expansion into Island Southeast Asia. They were introduced from a small population of dogs, possibly at a single occasion, and have since lived isolated from other dog populations