Original Article

Heredity (2016) 117, 301–306; doi:10.1038/hdy.2016.48; published online 13 July 2016

Diet adaptation in dog reflects spread of prehistoric agriculture

M Arendt1, K M Cairns2, J W O Ballard2, P Savolainen3 and E Axelsson1

  1. 1Science for Life Laboratory, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  2. 2School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  3. 3Science for Life Laboratory, School of Biotechnology, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Solna, Sweden

Correspondence: Dr E Axelsson or Dr M Arendt, Science for Life Laboratory, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Uppsala University, Husargatan 3, 75123 Uppsala, Sweden. E-mail: erik.axelsson@imbim.uu.se or maja-louise.arendt@imbim.uu.se

Received 16 February 2016; Revised 19 May 2016; Accepted 23 May 2016
Advance online publication 13 July 2016



Adaptations allowing dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, including a significant AMY2B copy number gain, constituted a crucial step in the evolution of the dog from the wolf. It is however not clear whether this change was associated with the initial domestication, or represents a secondary shift related to the subsequent development of agriculture. Previous efforts to study this process were based on geographically limited data sets and low-resolution methods, and it is therefore not known to what extent the diet adaptations are universal among dogs and whether there are regional differences associated with alternative human subsistence strategies. Here we use droplet PCR to investigate worldwide AMY2B copy number diversity among indigenous as well as breed dogs and wolves to elucidate how a change in dog diet was associated with the domestication process and subsequent shifts in human subsistence. We find that AMY2B copy numbers are bimodally distributed with high copy numbers (median 2nAMY2B=11) in a majority of dogs but no, or few, duplications (median 2nAMY2B=3) in a small group of dogs originating mostly in Australia and the Arctic. We show that this pattern correlates geographically to the spread of prehistoric agriculture and conclude that the diet change may not have been associated with initial domestication but rather the subsequent development and spread of agriculture to most, but not all regions of the globe.