A genetic switch allowed dogs to adapt to a starch-rich diet and evolve from meat-munching wolves into Man’s leftover-loving best friend, scientists said Wednesday.
Comparing the genetic code of the domestic dog to that of its wolf cousins, a team of researchers from Sweden, Norway and the United States found several telling differences.
“Our findings show that the digestive system of dogs have adapted to be able to live on a diet similar to ours,” co-author Erik Axelsson said. The dog is estimated to have split from the wolf anything from 7,000 to 30,000 years ago.
“A completely new piece to the puzzle is our finding of a more efficient starch digestion in dogs,” Axelsson said by email.
This could mean that only wolves who learnt to better digest the leftovers survived to become dog ancestors.
“In addition, it suggests that the domestication process took off when agriculture developed.”
The team had compared the sequenced genomes of 12 wolves from different areas in the world with those of 60 dogs from 14 breeds, and found 36 genomic regions that had probably been modified through domestication.
The dog was most likely the first animal to be domesticated by Man — a key development in the development of modern human civilisation.