WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The question of how some wolves evolved into the trusty dogs that work on farms, lead the blind and curl up on pillows in bedrooms has remained largely unanswered.
An international team of researchers used complex genetic analysis and an understanding of archeology, ecology, biochemistry and agricultural science to discover that adaptations that allowed dogs to thrive on starch-rich diets were central to the domestication of canines.
"I think the domestication of dogs is especially interesting because we have such a special relationship with dogs; they stand out in terms of being domesticated animals, as they become part of our families," explained study author Erik Axelsson, an assistant professor at Uppsala University, in Sweden.
The transition from wolf to dog was relatively simple. In early agricultural settlements, "humans began to gather their trash into small waste dumps, which might have attracted wolves because the waste dumps provided a relatively constant supply of food," Axelsson explained. "That sort of nutrition must have been the leftover remains -- of what they ate, which included starch."
To be an efficient scavenger, a wolf had to have an effective method of digesting starch, he said. "Some wolves were slightly better than others at digesting starch and had an advantage. A natural selection process created animals that we later called dogs."
Axelsson said it's actually easy to envision how it might have happened. To be able to effectively grab food out of the waste dump, dogs had to be comfortable around people. "Imagine a shy wolf running away every time it saw a human," he noted.
As for when the evolution of wolves into dogs may have occurred, Axelsson said it's hard to give a well-defined time. He said both archeological and genetic data suggests it could have happened anywher
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