Tag: David Stanton

The early beginnings.

Science has maybe found a clue to the ancestor of the dog and the wolf.

For an animal that means so much to us humans, the origins of the dog are still uncertain. Indeed, as this interesting article shows, the origins of the wolf are uncertain.

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Was This 18,000-Year-Old Puppy Frozen in Siberian Permafrost the Ancestor of Wolves, Dogs or Both?

DNA tests on the well-preserved remains can’t determine whether the little canine was wild or domestic

(Sergey Fedorov/NEFU)

By Jason Daley, smithsonianmag.com
Dec. 3, 2019, 10 a.m.”>December 3, 2019

Meet Dogor, an 18,000-year-old pup unearthed in Siberian permafrost whose name means “friend” in the Yakut language. The remains of the prehistoric pup are puzzling researchers because genetic testing shows it’s not a wolf or a dog, meaning it could be an elusive ancestor of both.

Locals found the remains in the summer of 2018 in a frozen lump of ground near the Indigirka River, according to the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk. Parts of the animal are incredibly well-preserved, including its head, nose, whiskers, eyelashes and mouth, revealing that it still had its milk teeth when it died. Researchers suggest the animal was just two months old when it passed, though they do not know the cause of death.

The pup is so well-preserved that researchers at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden were able to sequence the animal’s DNA using a piece of rib bone. The results found that Dogor was male, but even after two rounds of analysis the team could not determine whether he was a dog or a wolf.

“It’s normally relatively easy to tell the difference between the two,” David Stanton, a Centre for Palaeogenetics research fellow, tells Amy Woodyatt at CNN. “We have a lot of data from it already, and with that amount of data, you’d expect to tell if it was one or the other. The fact that we can’t might suggest that it’s from a population that was ancestral to both—to dogs and wolves.”

The find is exciting, regardless of whether Dogor turns out to be a common canine ancestor, an early dog, or an early wolf. Hannah Knowles at The Washington Post reports that Dogor comes from an interesting time in canine evolution, when wolf species were dying out and early dogs were beginning to emerge.

“As you go back in time, as you get closer to the point that dogs and wolves converge, [it becomes] harder to tell between the two,” Stanton tells Knowles.

(Sergey Fedorov/NEFU)

The history of just how and when dogs split from wolves is unresolved. There’s a general agreement among scientists that modern gray wolves and dogs split from a common ancestor 15,000 to 40,000 years ago, explains Brian Handwerk previously for Smithsonian.com. How dogs became dogs, however, is contested. Some research suggests that dogs were domesticated by humans once, while other studies have found dogs were domesticated multiple times. Exactly where in the world wild canines became man’s best friend is also disputed. The origin of the human-animal bond has been traced to Mongolia, China and Europe.

Scientists disagree about how dogs ended up paired with people, too. Some suspect humans captured wolf pups and actively domesticated them. Others suggest that a strain of “friendly,” less aggressive wolves more or less domesticated themselves by hanging out near humans, gaining access to their leftover food.

Dorgor’s DNA could help unravel these mysteries. The team plans to do a third round of DNA testing that may help definitively place Dogor in the canine family tree, report Daria Litvinova and Roman Kutuko at the Associated Press.

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This is incredibly interesting, don’t you think?

Hopefully I will hear of that third round of DNA testing and, if so, will most definitely share it with you.

32,000 years ago!

A wolf became buried.

This is a wonderful story and one that I shall go straight into. Reason I have software problems that I’m trying to fix today!

This article was first published by The Smithsonian magazine.

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A Perfectly Preserved 32,000-Year-Old Wolf Head Was Found in Siberian Permafrost

Given the head’s state of preservation, researchers are hopeful that they can extract viable DNA and use it to sequence the wolf’s genome.

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The specimen is the first (partial) carcass of an adult Pleistocene steppe wolf—an extinct lineage distinct from modern wolves—ever found (Courtesy of Dr. Tori Herridge)
smithsonian.com

Last summer, a mammoth tusk hunter exploring the shores of the Tirekhtyak River in Siberia’s Yakutia region unearthed the fully intact head of a prehistoric wolf. Preserved by the region’s permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, for some 32,000 years, the specimen is the first partial carcass of an adult Pleistocene steppe wolf—an extinct lineage distinct from modern wolves—ever found.

The discovery, first reported by the Siberian Times, is poised to help researchers better understand how steppe wolves compared with their contemporary counterparts, as well as why the species eventually died out.

As Marisa Iati writes for the Washington Post, the wolf in question was fully grown, likely aged 2 to 4 years old, at the time of its death. Although photographs of the severed head, still boasting clumps of fur, fangs and a well-preserved snout, place its size at 15.7 inches long—the modern gray wolf’s head, in comparison, measures 9.1 to 11 inchesLove Dalén, an evolutionary geneticist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History who was filming a documentary in Siberia when the tusk hunter arrived on the scene with the head in tow, says that media reports touting the find as a “giant wolf” are inaccurate.

“It is not that much bigger than a modern wolf if you discount the frozen clump of permafrost stuck to where the neck would [normally] have been,” Dalén explains to Smithsonian.com.

According to CNN, a Russian team led by Albert Protopopov of the Republic of Sakha’s Academy of Sciences is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull.

David Stanton, a researcher at the Swedish Museum of Natural History who is leading genetic analysis of the remains, tells Smithsonian.com that given the head’s state of preservation, he and his colleagues are hopeful that they can extract viable DNA and use it to sequence the wolf’s genome. This work, expected to last at least another year, will eventually be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

A Russian team is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull
A Russian team is currently building a digital model of the animal’s brain and the interior of its skull (Albert Protopopov)

For now, it remains unclear exactly how the wolf’s head became separated from the rest of its body. Speaking with Smithsonian.com, Tori Herridge, an evolutionary biologist at London’s Natural History Museum who was part of the team filming in Siberia at the time of the discovery, says that a colleague, Dan Fisher of the University of Michigan, thinks scans of the animal’s head may reveal evidence of it being deliberately severed by humans—perhaps “contemporaneously with the wolf dying.” If so, Herridge notes, the find would offer “a unique example of human interaction with carnivores.” Still, she concludes in a post on Twitter, “I am reserving judgment until more investigation [is] done.”

Dalén echoes Herridge’s hesitancy, saying that he has “seen no evidence convincing” him that humans cut off the head. After all, it’s not uncommon to find partial sets of remains in the Siberian permafrost. If an animal was only partially buried and subsequently frozen, for example, the rest of its body could have decomposed or been eaten by scavengers. Alternatively, it’s possible that shifts within the permafrost over thousands of years led the carcass to break into multiple pieces.

According to Stanton, steppe wolves were “probably slightly larger and more robust than modern wolves.” The animals had a strong, wide jaw equipped for hunting large herbivores such as woolly mammoths and rhinos, and as Stanton tells USA Today’s N’dea Yancey-Bragg, went extinct between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, or roughly the time when modern wolves first arrived on the scene. If the researchers successfully extract DNA from the wolf’s head, they will attempt to use it to determine whether the ancient wolves mated with modern ones, how inbred the older species was, and if the lineage had—or lacked—any genetic adaptations that contributed to its demise.

To date, the Siberian permafrost has yielded an array of well-preserved prehistoric creatures: among others, a 42,000-year-old foal, a cave lion cub, an “exquisite ice bird complete with feathers,” as Herridge notes, and “even a delicate Ice Age moth.” According to Dalén, these finds can largely be attributed to a surge in mammoth tusk hunting and increased melting of permafrost linked with global warming.

Speaking with Smithsonian.com, Stanton concludes, “The warming climate … means that more and more of these specimens are likely to be found in the future.”

At the same time, he points out, “It is also likely that many of [them] will thaw out and decompose (and therefore be lost) before anyone can find … and study them.”

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It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good. That saying comes to mind when I read about the warming climate and more specimens being found.

Fascinating!