"Most mutations we see in dogs have been selected by humans, and we intuitively think they are unique to dogs," he said. "We don't think of short-legged wolves like dachshunds or wild wolves that look like Dalmatians. The surprise of this study is that black wolves have their black coat coloration as a gift from dogs. The products of artificial selection had added substantially to the genetic legacy of a wild species."
Scientists have thought that coat color is related to camouflage, perhaps to hide wolves from their prey or from one another.
"Apparently, natural selection has increased the frequency of black coat color dramatically in wolf populations across North America," Wayne said. "It must have adaptive value that we don't yet understand. It could be camouflage, or strengthening the immune system to combat pathogens, or it could reflect a preference to mate with individuals of a different coat color."
Does this research have implications beyond dogs and wolves?
"The underlying assumption is that genes from one species will be contained and not enter another species on a massive scale; this may not be true," Wayne said. "There may be implications for genetically modified organisms."
"This work shows how domestication can preserve and ultimately enrich the genetic legacy of the original natural populations," said Gregory Barsh, a professor of genetics at Stanford University's School of Medicine and co-author of the Science paper. "Our work is on wolves, but there are many other examples of domestic plants wheat, rice, maize, soybean and animals bison, cattle, cats where gene flow from domesticated to natural populations has been documented."
The lead authors of the paper are Tovi Anderson, a gra
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University of California - Los Angeles