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A Whole New World

Science Uncovers the First Real Evidence of the ‘New World Dog’

While it sounds like the nickname of a WWE Wrestler, the “New World Dog” actually the name of an ancient sub species of canine that migrated across the Bering Strait with the ancestors of Native Americans. It’s often thought to be the father of many species of American dogs, but it’s largely been speculation. However, scientists recently created the largest map to date of canine gene sequences — basically an evolutionary tree on which all dogs fall  — and the results show that, while most dogs in the U.S. are of European descent, some breeds did definitely descend from this famed good boy.

In past research, scientists found archaeological evidence that the New World Dog existed, but this study, published this week in Cell Reports, is the first to present hard evidence of them in modern breeds. Geneticists analyzed the genetic sequences of 161 modern breeds, a dataset that included 1,346 individual dogs, and yielded more information than researchers anticipated. The map highlighted how the oldest dog breeds evolved or were bred to fill certain roles.

The origin of many “gun dogs,” like Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters, can be traced back to Victorian England, when new technologies like guns, created new hunting roles to fill. This caused them to cluster together on the phylogenetic tree. Breeds from the Middle East (the Saluki, for instance) and from Asia (Chow Chows and Akitas) appeared to branch off long before the “Victorian Explosion.” Herding breeds, largely of European origin, showed more diversity than researchers suspected, which suggests those dogs have held down jobs longer than previously thought.

New World Dog descendants are likely modern hairless breeds such as Peruvian Hairless dog and the Xoloitzcuintle, aka the Xolo, which hails from Central and South America. It’s not totally clear the specific genes that separate hairless dogs from Europe from New World pups, but authors of the study hope to figure that out with further research. Until then, dog owners will just have to check for a Eurail pass.

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