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Closest to the Dog

An extinct Japanese wolf appears to be the closest known wild relative of dogs, New Scientist reports.

It notes that the Japanese wolf, Canis lupus hodophilax, a subspecies of the gray wolf, went extinct in the early 1900s but that there are a number of museum specimens that researchers led by Yohey Terai at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan studied. As they report in a preprint posted to BioRxiv, the researchers analyzed the whole genomes of nine Japanese wolves and 11 Japanese dogs to find that Japanese wolves are the closest among gray wolves to dogs.

The Eurasian gray wolf lineage and the dog lineage split about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, but the researchers uncovered some introgression from the ancestor of the Japanese wolves into the ancestor of East Eurasian dogs that occurred about 10,000 years ago.

Terai tells New Scientist that even if the dog ancestor lived in East Asia, that does not necessarily mean dogs were domesticated there. "It is not possible to determine when the dogs began to have a relationship with humans from the genome data," Terai tells it. New Scientist notes that archaeological evidence is needed to make that determination.