Dog or wolf? The Australian dingo is a special case – Wikipedia

Three-week-old Sandy Malki was riddled with parasites and nearly died of thirst when Barry Eagleton spotted a dingo puppy and her two brothers on the edge of a desert road in South Australia. The man gave the little dingo water and then drove home from the nearest airport. But as soon as he got home, he ran 2,500 km back with his wife Lynn. The pups, too small to fit his three hands, were still there, apparently abandoned by their mother. The Eggletons bred Sandy, Eggie, and Didi by bottle.

Today, Sandy is probably the best-known representative of her breed – and the most important part in answering the long-discussed question among biologists about whether Australia’s biggest predator is a (feral) breed of domestic dog or a separate breed that’s this closer to the wolves. In 2014, Sandy won a competition called by a US biotech company for “the world’s most interesting genome” – against a pit viper and a sea slug, among other things. The prize money should enable scientists to elaborate Sandy’s genetic information.

Some Australian aborigines kept guard dogs

On Saturday, 25 researchers from six countries — including a scientist from the Federal Julius Kohn Institute for Crop Plant Research in Quedlinburg — published the results of their extensive investigation, in which they compared the genome of the desert dingo Sandy to that of the Greenland wolf. And those of five domestic dogs of different breeds: German Shepherd, Great Dane, Labrador, Boxer and Basenji, which are believed to be the oldest domestic dog breed still in existence.

The result: Dingos like Sandy are “essentially” genetically different from domestic dogs, Australian study leaders Matt Field and William Ballard explained. In terms of evolutionary history, the dingo is thus an early branch of the line of evolution toward modern dogs and stands between the wolf and domestic dogs today.

Dingo Sandy at three weeks old.


Researchers emphasize one difference in particular between dogs and dingoes: the genome of domestic dogs has been shaped primarily by artificial selection since their ancestors began to be domesticated by humans 14,000 to 29,000 years ago in the Neolithic period. On the other hand, the genes of the modern dingo were shaped by adaptation to the environmental conditions of Australia, where their ancestors came 5,000 or even 8,000 years ago. There they lived largely in the wild, some of which were kept by the aborigines as guard dogs, but not as hunting dogs.

This difference can be detected, for example, in the different equipment of the gene that produces a protein called amylase 2B, which in turn enables starchy food to be digested. There is only one copy of this gene in the dingo genome, like a coyote. In pet dogs, on the other hand, there are up to twenty copies of it. The researchers explain this by saying that dogs adapted to starchy foods, such as rice, that humans fed them. On the other hand, wild dingoes do not need this: they hunt marsupials, reptiles and fish. Even Ballard, a professor of genetics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, drew the conclusion from the new findings that they therefore do not kill sheep and other farm animals that are high in fat. It calls for better protection of dingos from being chased by farmers.

Barry Eagleton says his dingoes are just as tame and affectionate as other dogs. But dogs are just like children when it comes to handling, but Sandy and her siblings are just like adults: “They don’t need us to survive.”

Leave a Comment