Is your dog a descendant of the ancient wolf?

This collie has one color identified by researchers as an ancient origin.

A new study has shed some light on certain canine color patterns, including the discovery that one of these patterns originated in a now-extinct dog-like species millions of years ago.

The study, published by the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, revealed structural variants that control the expression of the agouti signaling protein (ASIP) gene at two separate locations to produce five distinctive dog color patterns. These patterns were labeled dominant yellow, shaded yellow, agouti (think greyish; salt and pepper), black saddle, and black back, and they occur in hundreds of dog breeds.

What surprised researchers were the origin of one of these patterns. They discovered that the genetic combination for dominant yellow is shared with arctic white wolves, and based on phylogenetic analysis, originated from an extinct canid that existed more than two million years ago. Meanwhile, dogs are thought to have been domesticated only 30,000 years ago.

Lighter coat colors might have given an edge to the extinct canid ancestor in an arctic environment during glaciation periods 1.5 to two million years ago, according to the researchers. Natural selection would have caused that coat pattern to persist as these animals would eventually give rise to dogs and wolves.

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