Study: Dogs Have Adapted Their Genes To Evolve With Humans

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
Scientists in China have discovered evidence that suggests dogs and humans have more in common than may have been previously known.

Dogs have traveled with man for thousands of years, as protectors, hunters and companions. They’ve adapted as humans have, and now scientists believe that dogs developed protection from malaria in a similar manner to the way people of West Africa have.

Related: Canine Family Tree Maps the Evolution of ‘New World Dog

Researchers from Yunnan University found that a small change in the genes of dogs most likely helped boost their genetic immune response to malaria. The specific gene is called ADGRE1 and it has also been associated with protection from malaria in humans.

What scientists believe this also reinforces is that dogs and humans have both evolved in a convergent manner–adapting to new environments independently but with similar traits.

According to another study a few years ago, convergent evolution is also demonstrated in the altitude adaptation of Tibetans and their dogs. Tibetans adapt to low levels of oxygen because they have a special version of a gene called ESPA1. When oxygen levels in Tibetans drop, the ESPA1 gene turns other genes on to help. Similarly, dogs in Tibet also have a mutation in the ESPA1 gene that acts similarly in response to low oxygen levels. This information was found a few years ago by another team in China.

The data of this study suggests that dogs’ genes changed over time and adapted to the West African diet similar to the adaptation West African humans did. The genes are involved in insulin secretion and sensitivity and they also have mutations that help protect from tropical sunlight intensity–just as the peoples’ genes have.

The researchers gained this information from local dogs, often found on the street, of Nigeria. Many dogs of the Congo, Liberia and Guinea are similar in looks and breed–skinny and brown. Researcher Ya-Ping Zhang looked at the genomes of 15 local Nigerian dogs and compared them to those of European bred and Asian dogs.

Related: Study: Modern Dog Domesticated From Single Event 40,000 Years Ago

Those dogs are similar to the African breed Basenji, who have adapted to West Africa by building up resistance to illnesses that resemble malaria just as their human counterparts have.

Which just goes to show that dogs really will do just about anything for their humans…even change their DNA!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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