Every scientist works on important research that, let’s be honest, can often be difficult for the rest of us to wrap our minds around. But Dr. Elaine Ostrander and Dr. Leonid Kruglyak study something almost everyone can relate to: Dogs.
Their research, published in Science Magazine in 2004 and reported by , uses DNA evidence to help trace dogs from their origins to today. Drs. Ostrander and Kruglyak say most breeds were bred only a few hundred years ago and fall into one of three groups based on close genetic relation: herding, hunting, or guarding. Because of their shared DNA, each group unsurprisingly shares physical and geographical similarities.
But there’s a fourth group of dogs unlike the others. Its breeds don’t always share similar physical appearance or country of origin–what brings them together is a genetic similarity to wolves. The doctors say this “ancient” group is most likely descended from the very first dogs–the ones that split off from a shared common ancestor with the wolf somewhere between 15, 000 to 30, 000 years ago and spread across the globe at the side of their nomadic owners.