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Learning to love grains, potatoes was key to the evolution of dogs

By David Brown,
Washington Post, Jan 24, 2013 01:17 AM EST


A team of Swedish researchers compared the genomes of wolves and dogs and found that a big difference is dogs’ ability to easily digest starch. On their way from pack-hunting carnivore to fireside companion, dogs learned to desire — or at least live on — wheat, rice, barley, corn and potatoes.


The researchers compared the DNA sequences of the wolves and the dogs (which are subspecies of the same species, Canis lupus) and identified 36 genomic regions in which there are differences that suggest they have undergone recent natural selection in dogs.

In particular, dogs show changes in genes governing three key steps in the digestion of starch. The first is the breakdown of large carbohydrate molecules into smaller pieces; the second is the chopping of those pieces into sugar molecules; the third is the absorption of those molecules in the intestine.

As people created permanent settlements — and running away from those you didn’t like (or killing them) became less of an option — there may have been a survival advantage to being cooperative and self-controlled. It’s possible that studying the genes that determine dog sociability might shed light on how a less aggressive, more civilized human evolved...
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This is a fascinating article that shows co-evolution of humans and dogs as both learned to tolerate a carbohydrate-based diet and develop cooperation in tight living conditions during the early development of agriculture.

Dogs show modifications in genes controlling the nervous system compared with wolves. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if humans showed similar genetic modifications. There is a lot of research to be done in the future. I expect that the research will co-evolve just as the human and canine subjects co-evolved.

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