Abstract

The spectacular diversity in size, conformation, and pelage that characterizes the domestic dog reflects not only the intensity of artificial selection but ultimately the genetic variability of founding populations. Here we review past molecular genetic data that are relevant to understanding the origin and phylogenetic relationships of the dog. DNA-DNA hybridization data show that the dog family Canidae diverged about 50 million years ago from other carnivore families. In contrast, the extant canids are very closely related and diverged from a common ancestor about 10 million years ago. The evidence supporting a close relationship of dogs with gray wolves is overwhelming. However, dogs are remarkably diverse in mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests a more ancient origin of dogs than has been indicated by the fossil record. In addition, dogs have originated from or interbred with wolves throughout their history at different times and different places. We test the possibility of an independent domestication event in North America by analysis of mtDNA variation in the Xoloitzcuintli. This unusual breed is believed to have been kept isolated for thousands of years and may be one of the most ancient breeds in North America. Our results do not support a New World domestication of dogs nor a close association of the Xoloitzcuintli with other hairless breeds of dogs. Despite their phenotypic uniformity, the Xoloitzcuintli has a surprisingly high level of mtDNA sequence variation. Other breeds are also genetically diverse, suggesting that dog breeds were often founded with a large number of dogs from outbred populations.