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Sled dogs have well-known roots in human prehistory. A 12,500-year-old tool found at an arctic site hints at its possible use on sleds. And archaeological research at a well-known site on the island of Zhokov in the Siberian Sea has unearthed dog bones and sled technology indicating that dogs may have been the first canids bred for a specific task. .
Dr Sinding and his colleagues dug deep into the DNA of one of these dogs, using a jawbone from the site dating back to 9,500 years ago. They also sequenced the genomes of a 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf and 10 modern Greenland sled dogs. They also relied on other canine genomes archived in databases.
They found that the Zhokov dog was closest to modern sled dogs, specifically Greenland sled dogs, which are a “land breed,” bred for a task and sharing one appearance and behavior, but not gender. breed for which herd books and records are kept.
The Zhokov dog was not a direct ancestor of modern sled dogs, but it shared a common ancestor with modern sled dogs that was probably around 12,000 years old. This evidence suggests that the type of sled dog, bred to carry loads in harsh winters, was already established 9,500 years ago.
The researchers also found that sled dogs, ancient and modern, did not show interbreeding with wolves, even though other modern dog breeds did, and that dog-wolf matings were known in Greenland in the 19th century. historical era. The results suggest that the hybrids may not have been very useful for pulling sleds.
Then researchers began looking for different genes in sled dogs from wolves and other breeds of dogs. They found several that made sense. One is involved in a variety of physiological functions, including calcium transport and temperature sensitivity. They don’t know what exactly it does in sled dogs, but they do know that several similar genes are different in mammoths, creatures of the cold, and elephants, animals of more temperate climates, suggesting some sort of adaptation to arctic life.
Another gene that sets sled dogs apart from other dogs is involved in managing low oxygen conditions. It is also found in a group of humans, the Sea Nomads, who have been diving for thousands of years. According to Dr Sinding, this could contribute to the ability to cope with the extreme demands of long sled journeys.