Study narrows origin — dogs and wolves had common ancestor

Dogs were domesticated between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, suggesting the earliest dogs most likely arose when humans were still hunting and gathering – before the advent of agriculture around 10,000 years ago, according to an analysis of individual genomes of modern dogs and gray wolves.

An international team of researchers, who published their report in PLoS Genetics Jan. 16, studied genomes of three gray wolves, one each from China, Croatia and Israel – all areas thought to be possible geographic centers of dog domestication. They also studied dog genomes from an African basenji and an Australian dingo; both breeds come from places with no history of wolves, where recent mixing with wolves could not have occurred.

Their findings revealed the three wolves were more closely related to each other than to any of the dogs. Likewise, the two dog genomes and a third boxer genome resembled each other more closely than the wolves. This suggests that modern dogs and gray wolves represent sister branches on an evolutionary tree descending from an older, common ancestor. The results contrast with previous theories that speculated dogs evolved from one of the sampled populations of gray wolves…

Computer methods for analyzing complete genome sequences developed by Ilan Gronau, the paper’s second author and a postdoctoral associate in Siepel’s lab, played a key role in the collaboration. Gronau’s computer program, called G-PhoCS (Generalized Phylogenetic Coalescent Sampler), was previously applied with success in a 2011 Nature Genetics study of early human history and demographics.

In this case, G-PhoCS provided a detailed picture of the demographic changes that occurred during the divergence of dogs from wolves. The analysis revealed that domestication led to sizable pruning in population of early dogs and wolves. Dogs suffered a sixteenfold cut in population size as they diverged from an early wolf ancestor. Gray wolves also experienced sharp drops in population, suggesting that the genetic diversity among both species’ common ancestors was larger than represented by dogs and modern wolves. In addition, there was considerable gene flow between dogs and wolves after domestication. Accounting for gene flow was a major challenge in the analysis, and Gronau’s research on this topic proved valuable in obtaining an accurate model of canid demography.

Fascinating stuff. I love science even more than I love wolves and dogs. Helluva combination.

Five favorites from the 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Kia GT4

Downtown Detroit in January is not exactly in the brief for most people’s dream vacations, but the fact is that the Detroit Auto Show is still mecca for gearheads the world over. With the auto industry newly resurgent – budgets raised and prospects glittering for 2014 – the outlay of new metal in the storied halls of Cobo was as good as it has been in years…

Having walked the floor, written dozens of news stories and taken hundreds of pictures and videos, your editors are now ready to share their five favorite vehicles from Detroit 2014.

AUTOBLOG GREEN is my second stop every morning online. These editorial picks are from their parent AUTOBLOG – still, always interesting to motorheads.

Click through the link above and check out all Top 5.

Those organic chicken eggs were injected with antibiotics?


Sergey Yechikov/Shutterstock

When you’ve covered a topic long enough, you get the idea you’ve heard it all. Then along comes a factoid like the one I discovered while preparing my recent piece on the recent blockbuster Consumer Reports study on supermarket chicken and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I learned that at the industrial hatcheries that churn out chicks for the poultry industry, eggs are commonly injected with tiny amounts of an antibiotic called gentamicin, which is used in people to treat a variety of serious bacterial infections…

But get this: The practice is allowed in organic production, too. Organic code forbids use of antibiotics in animals, yet in a loophole I’d never heard of, such standards kick in on “the second day of life” for chicks destined for organic poultry farms. (The practice isn’t used for the eggs we actually eat—just the ones that hatch chicks to be raised on farms.)

John Glisson, a veterinarian for the US Poultry & Egg Association, told me the practice originated decades ago, when the industry began vaccinating chicken embryos to prevent a common condition called Marek’s disease, a deadly herpes virus that attacks chickens. To sterilize the small hole required to get the vaccine into the egg, the industry would shoot in a bit of gentamicin. Glisson added that it remains a common practice, but that it has declined in recent years as (he insisted) the industry has begun to move away from reliance on antibiotics. Neither Glisson nor the FDA could give me precise data on how often it’s used these days. The Food and Drug Administration allows such injections only when prescribed by a veterinarian, a spokesperson said.

So what’s the problem with giving chickens a little antibiotic boost as they start life? For starters, the practice could promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. A 2007 peer-reviewed study of Maryland and Virginia workers in conventional chicken houses were 32 times more likely to carrying gentamicin-resistant E. coli than their neighbors who don’t work in the industry.

I wonder what the response would be from Congress-critters, FDA-staff, if they were required to have their bodies carry around a level of gentamicin-resistant E.coli equal to whatever is the latest number for folks working in the chicken industry, eh?

NSA has been spying on computers – offline! WTF?

The US National Security Agency (NSA) used secret technology to spy on computers that were not even connected to the internet, it has been reported.

Citing documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden, the New York Times said 100,000 machines were fitted with small devices that emitted radio waves…

On Friday, the US President is expected to address concerns over NSA activity.

Quoting sources “briefed” on Barack Obama’s plans, the Times reported that restrictions on the scope of collecting bulk telephone data will feature, and that a person will be appointed to represent the views of the public in secret intelligence meetings.

Furthermore, tighter controls on foreign surveillance will be implemented – an attempt, the paper suggests, to dampen the political fall-out from revelations the US had obtained data from the communication tools of world leaders without their knowledge.

Plausible deniability will be introduced. The Chris Christie model no doubt.

This latest leak details how the NSA accessed targets by inserting tiny circuit boards or USB cards into computers and using radio waves to transmit data without the need for the machine to be connected to a wider network.

It is a significant revelation in that it undermines what was seen to be one of the simplest but most effective methods of making a system secure: isolating it from the internet.

While the technology involved is not new, its apparent implementation by US security services was previously unknown.

The inevitable NSA spokesman said we shouldn’t worry. They’re not watching “us” and they wouldn’t do anything to harm all the innocent Americans, anyway. Blah, blah, blah!