A stuffed specimen of Honshu Wolf (Japanese Wolf Canis hodophilax). Exhibit at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan. Credit: Momotarou2012/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Researchers from Japan have found that the Japanese Wolf is the closest living relative to domestic dogs. A paper was published by the team describing their genetic analysis on the extinct wolf, and its relationship to modern dogs.
The Japanese Wolf is a subspecies the gray wolf. It once lived on many islands in what is now Japan. Although the species was declared extinct by hunters and landowners in 1905, many bone and tissue samples were preserved. Researchers extracted DNA from bone tissue from multiple museums in Japan in this new endeavor.
Researchers compared the DNA of the Japanese Wolf with that of other wolves, dogs, and other species to discover that the wolf is part of an evolutionary branch of wolves that originated between 20,000 and 40,000. The researchers also found that some ancient wolves became Japanese wolves, while others became dogs.
Research has previously shown that domestic dogs evolved from a gray wolf species that is not currently known. Scientists are closer to understanding the unique wolf through this new research. New DNA evidence indicates that the wolf lived in East Asia, not Europe or the Middle East as widely believed. The wolf's wolf line later migrated to Japan. However, it is not clear what happened to the line which evolved into dogs. The DNA showed that there was interbreeding between the dog and wolf lines. An earlier study showed that about 2% of DNA from a 10,000-year-old sled dog was from the Japanese Wolf. Researchers suggest that such interbreeding occurred before the Japanese wolf arrived in Japan. Therefore, it is unlikely that Japanese wolves made their way to Japan until much later. The researchers also noted that New Guinea singing dogs, and dingoes, have the most Japanese wolf DNA among all modern species. This suggests that the wolf may have migrated great distances.
Jun Gojobori and colleagues, The Japanese Wolf is the closest relative to modern dogs. Dogs have inherited its ancestral genome from all over East Eurasia. Jun Gojobori and colleagues, The Japanese Wolf is the closest relative to modern dogs. Dogs have inherited its ancestral genome in large numbers across East Eurasia. DOI: 10.1101/2021.10.10.463851
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