America's first dogs came from Siberia, disappeared after Europeans arrived

Timeline of the arrival of native North American dogs across the Americas

Timeline of the arrival of native North American dogs across the Americas

For millennia the two species shared the land.

The researchers analyzed the remains of the most ancient dogs found in North America, and determined their progenitor. But it existed for a period spanning just 9,000 years. Bizarrely, their nearly total disappearance means that the closest living relative of these bygone dogs is now CTVT, an opportunistic, sexually-transmitted dog cancer that has hitchhiked around the world at least two times over.

Researchers from around the globe collaborated to compare sequences of mitochondrial DNA from 71 ancient specimens of North American and Siberian dogs, as well as nuclear DNA from a further 7 sets of remains.

The oldest dog remains in the Americas date to about 9,000 years ago, many thousands of years after people began migrating over a land bridge connecting present-day Siberia and Alaska.

The Siberian huskies, malamutes and general sledding dogs are considered to be the closest to the original North American breeds.

"By looking at genomic data along with mitochondrial data, we were able to confirm that dogs came to the Americas with humans, and that almost all of that diversity was lost - most likely as a result of European colonization", said Kelsey Witt, who led the mitochondrial DNA genome work as a graduate student in the laboratory of University of IL anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who also is an author of the study.

The arrival of the first Europeans in the Americas in the 15th century didn't just affect the lives of native people already living here.

From their origins in Siberia, the dogs spread down through the continent with human settlements, becoming partially or even completely domesticated as the years ticked by. DNA from the tumours can trace them to a single individual, the "founder dog".

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Scientists believe that ancient American dogs were wiped out by colonizers brought diseases to the American continent.

Savolainen, who is unaffiliated with the current study, notes that his and others' research has shown that certain breeds, such as the Carolina dogs, do seem to lack numerous genetic markers found in European-descended dogs. This dog wasn't a giant, wolf-like creature as most would expect all ancient dogs to be, Perrisaid. Their disappearance coincided with colonisation, their ultimate fate left to speculation.

"It is fascinating that a population of dogs that inhabited many parts of the Americas for thousands of years, and that was an integral part of so many Native American cultures, could have disappeared so rapidly", senior lead author Laurent Frantz, a lecturer at Queen Mary University and co-investigator at the University of Oxford, said.

"This suggest something catastrophic must have happened, but we do not have the evidence to explain this sudden disappearance yet". "The genome that it has is the genome of the very, very first" dog to get the disease.

Canine transmissible venereal tumors (CTVT) is a type of contagious canine genital, cancer that can spread through mating.

As a cancer, the cells contain traces of its progenitor locked away in its own genes.

"It's the closest remaining vestige of this lost dog lineage, " co-author Elizabeth Murchison, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in an email. The researchers suggest that these dogs served as helpers in hunting for game.

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