Origin of the Australian Dingo as revealed by the study of Mitochondrial DNA
Summary by Dr. Dominique de Caprona 
© de Caprona 2009

Australian Dingo, Canis lupus dingo © Jörn Brauns

The study entitled "A Detailed picture of the origin of the Australian Dingo, obtained from the study of Mitochondrial DNA" by Savolainen et al (2004) gives insight as to when and from where the Australian Dingo* may have originated.

Mitochondrial DNA
A) 582 bp of the mtDNA control region were analysed in:
211 Dingoes from  Australia, 19 kept in captivity and 192 from the wild representing 27 regions across the country.
676 dogs from Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, India, Siberia, Arctic America, China/Mongolia/Korea, Japan, Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Highland New Guinea.
38 Eurasian wolves
B) 290 bp of the mtDNA were analysed in pre-European archaelogical dog remains from Cook Island, Hawai and New Zealand.

The mtDNA of the Australian Dingo shows restricted sequence variation compared to the domestic dogs and the wolves in the study.
The 211 Dingoes had 20 mtDNA types differing from each other by at most 2 substitutions. 2 of the Dingo mtDNA types were identical to dog haplotypes, whereas the other 18 were specific to Dingoes.
In contrast, the 676 domestic dogs showed 114 mtDNA types with up to 16 substitutions between mtDNA types.

All mtDNA sequences among Dingoes fall within the largest clade of dog sequences, Clade A, representing 70% of domestic dog types.
53% of the Dingoes had the A 29 mtDNA type, one had the A 9 type, and 18 had mtDNA types unique to Dingo clustering around A 29 in a star-like formation, indicating that all Dingo mtDNA types originate from A 29. A9 was found only in one indivdual and is considered to be the result of a parallel mutation.
The mean distance to A 29 in the Dingo mtDNA sequences shows considerable variation between Western Australia and other areas of the country, probably as a result of random genetic drift.
The A 29 type is found in domestic dogs also but only in East Asia and Arctic America. 

The authors conclude that the Australian Dingo originates from East Asia, not from India, and that it perhaps travelled to Australia during the Austronesian expansion into Island Southeast Asia. They descend from a small population of dogs, theoretically as few as single pregnant female or as a small group which had lost genetic variation on its way from the Asian Mainland, and have evolved until today in isolation from other canine populations. The mean genetic distance between the Dingo's mtDNA sequences times the origin of the Dingo at circa 4,600 to 5,400 years ago. The dogs of neighboring islands as well as the archaeological samples show that several other mtDNA types were present in the region. The fact that none of them were found in the Dingoes suggest that their ancestors were imported only once.
Interestingly, the feral New Guinea** Singing Dog (Canis lupus hallstromi) also has the mtDNA A 29 type, and a unique New Guinea Singing dog type derived from A 29 by one substitution. It is therefore possible that it shares a common origin and had some gene flow with the Australian Dingo.

New Guinea Singing Dog, Canis lupus hallstromi © Valerie Abbott


I thank P. Savolainen for fine tuning this text.


Savolainen P, Leitner Th, Wilton AN, Matisoo-Smith E, Lundeberg J (2004): "A Detailed picture of the origin of the Australian Dingo, obtained from the study of Mitochondrial DNA".  PNAS, August 17 2004, Vol.101, no33, pp12387-12390

Author's note:
*The Aborigenes highly valued the Dingo as a hunting companion and as a guard dog although the Dingo was not fully domesticated. The Dingoes also kept them warm at night. In many areas the Dingo is now wild and lives alone or in small territorial groups. The Dingo howls and yelps but does not bark. Its preservation is threatened as it loses habitat, crossbreeds with dogs and is considered in some areas to be a pest.

**New Guinea is the world's second largest island situated North of Australia. It is separated in two roughly identical political halves, West Papua with Manokwari as its capital, and Papua with Jayapura as its capital.


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