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Australia’s dingoes look like dogs but have no strong relation with the domesticated canine, according to a new genetic study.
Scientists found that the dingo’s genome is very different from that of dog breeds and that the canine species have never been domesticated, New Scientist reported.
Dingoes are believed to have arrived in Australia around 5,000 to 8,500 years ago and have since been roaming wild around the continent. Initially, researchers theorized the animal descended from an ancient domestic dog breed introduced by Asian seafarers that later turned wild.
But researcher William O. Ballard and his team analyzed the genome of a pure desert dingo and compared it with that of five domestic dog breeds, including German shepherds and boxers.
They discovered that the dingo is a genetic intermediate between domestic dogs and wild wolves. Ballard added there were more genetic variations between dingoes and pooches than there are between any two human populations.
The findings also showed that the wild mammals only have a single copy of the AMY2B gene, which allows digestion of starchy food – whereas dogs have multiple copies and can digest these foods, such as rice.
“This reinforces the notion that dingoes were never truly domesticated,” said Ballard.
He noted that the study could also impact how dingoes should be treated in Australia, where the animals – together with feral domestic dogs and their hybrids – are culled to prevent them from attacking livestock.
“Lots of farmers believe … there’s no difference between a dingo and a feral domestic dog,” he added. “But from a conservation perspective, knowing there is a really significant difference between them is important.”