Humans have been associated with sled dogs for 9,500 years

For an owner, every dog ​​is special. Maybe your Beagle is brilliant or your Goldendoodle is hilarious. But some dogs have traits that make them incredibly unique, and not just to their owners, traits that date back thousands of years.

An example is sled dogs, or modern day huskies and malamutes. These big, fluffy animals make amazing pets and have been used to transporting people through arid, icy landscapes for thousands of years using special heat-regulating and fat-digesting traits. And according to a new study published last month in Science, it may be one of the oldest unique types of dogs to have sniffed, barked and run across the world. This discovery could help us better understand all kinds of modern sled dogs and prevent them from disappearing in our rapidly warming world.

Sled dogs have a rich history alongside groups of people, like the Inuit, who thrived in the colder corners of the earth for thousands of years. Mikkel Sinding, the study’s author and an evolutionary geneticist at Trinity College Dublin, says that until recently experts believed the type of sled dog had co-evolved with the Inuit people some time ago. two or three thousand years. But it turns out these puppies have a longer history than anyone thought.

To fix the timeline, the researchers sequenced the genomes of various dog bones, the oldest being around 9,500 years old, discovered in the chilling depths of Siberia. They also sequenced the DNA of 10 modern-day Greenland sled dogs and a 33,000-year-old Siberian wolf. What they discovered was that the ancient dog had much more in common genetically with modern dogs than the wolf. This suggests that this specific group of puppies split off from other dogs around 10,000 years ago, specifically to help usher in their human companions all over the world.

“People used to walk all over the earth until one day someone had this brilliant idea,” says Sinding. “Somebody can shoot me [sled]and it is an invention or even a technology.

If we go back to when it would have been, it would be around the same time the mammoths were dying and the ice age was ending. So as the world changed, humans used their puppy companions to get from point a to point b, sometimes carrying loads as heavy as a polar bear on the sleds behind them.

Another big question answered by genomic discovery is how different a modern sled dog might be from a cute poodle or a sulky pug. There are three major genomic adaptations that have turned sled dogs into powerhouses of transportation, says Elaine Ostrander, a comparative geneticist who researches dog breeds for the NIH.

First of all, sled dogs have a high tolerance for eating fat and fat, whereas our house pets mostly snack on carbs. Too much fat for a dog or someone who lives in temperate climates could mean serious heart disease, she says. In the frosty nature, grains and wheat are not really common. Thus, sled dogs, much like polar bears, have adapted to eat fat and fat without heart complications.

The second wild thing about these animals is their ability to control their body temperature in a way our house puppies might not be able to. If you’ve ever noticed that a husky can be extremely fluffy while still being able to keep it cool, it’s because their fur is double coated. This allows him to keep extreme temperatures at bay (which also means, for heaven’s sake, never shave your husky even in the hottest summers).

If a dog has to run in freezing temperatures for long periods of time, regulating their body heat is crucial. But on top of that, sled dogs are also hypoxia-adapted, says Ostrander. “Their job is to run, and if they run hard enough and long enough, they are deprived of oxygen,” she says. This is where the third adaptation comes in.

After sprinting a distance, whether it’s for track practice or catching up with the ice cream truck on a hot day, you’ve probably noticed that you’ll need a moment to catch your breath. For dogs that run and run and run, they have to find a solution, which in this case would be to develop genes that would allow them to survive even when they lack oxygen. People and animals that live at extreme altitudes have adapted to withstand the low level of oxygen that accompanies a mountain lifestyle. While these dogs don’t necessarily climb the Himalayas, they’ve also adapted to a lifestyle where constant strenuous activity doesn’t make them as sick or exhausted as other animals that aren’t as used to climbing. sledding for hours. time.

But while this mysterious Siberian dog of times gone by is certainly similar to the dog breeds we know and love now, we still don’t know exactly what they looked like. It will take more research and time to get a picture of this sturdy little woofer.

Sinding also notes that the world has changed, these dogs have changed too. In the early Holocene, modern malamutes probably didn’t run like they do today, and they certainly wouldn’t live in a part of the world that sometimes presses 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot July day.

People are also different. People today living in the coldest corners of the earth could replace a sled and a dog team with a snowmobile. What he hopes this research will do is mark the importance of these dog breeds, especially the lesser-known sled dogs like those found in Greenland, and prevent these ancient, hard-working breeds from becoming extinct. in a modern and warming world.

Bette C. Alvarado