Researchers have finally cracked the genetic code to find out what the Australian dingo really is. An international research consortium led by the University of La Trobe in Melbourne sequenced the genome of pure desert dingos and for the first time revealed the evolutionary position of a mysterious animal. Researchers have found that pure dingoes are “mediators” between wolves and domestic dog breeds. Sandy Malaki – a pure desert dingo that was part of the study – was discovered as a three-week-old puppy by the road in the central Australian desert. (UNSW)
Lead author Professor Bill Ballard of La Trobe University said that deciphering the genetic code of the cult Australian animal was a breakthrough for scientists.
“It gives us a much clearer view of how the dingo has evolved – which is scientifically fascinating, but it also opens up all sorts of new ways to monitor their health and ensure their long-term survival,” said Professor Ballard.
“If the dings are not given the protection they deserve, it will upset the ecological balance of the country, potentially leading to environmental problems such as erosion and species extinction.”
Professor Ballard said one of the key differences between dings and dogs is the number of copies of the pancreatic “amylase” gene that everyone has.
“A pure dingo has only one copy of the amylase gene, while domestic dogs have multiple copies – which, as we show, affects the intestinal microbiome and, as we predict, affects what the dingo eats,” said Professor Ballard.
“Based on this new knowledge, we assume that dings are much less likely to eat livestock, including sheep.
“If we’re right, farmers now assume that dinges killing their population are probably wild wild dogs.”
Sandy Malaki, a pure desert dingo who was part of the study, was discovered as a three-week-old puppy by the road in the central Australian desert near Strzelecki Track with his sister and brother.
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The researchers compared Sandy’s genome with the Greenland wolf and five domestic dog breeds, including the German Shepherd and the oldest known dog breed in the world, the Basenji.
The five-year research was published today in Science Advance.