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Smithsonian Magazine March 1999

   "It's all part of the package. Morphology and behavior go hand in hand," Brisbin says, gesturing to the lean shape of a nearby dog snuffling through the underbrush. That sinuous, blue-heron neck doesn't seem relevant without the pointed muzzle for stabbing at prey, and the upright ears for sharp hearing, and the long tail with its pale underside for signaling to the rest of the pack. Whether the Carolina dog is an ancient holdover or a modern throwback, its shape and behavior make a lot of evolutionary sense. 
   Genetics may tease out the origins of the Carolina dog, but so far the results are mixed. Recently, Brisbin and his colleague Travis Glenn, a molecular geneticist at SREL, have been looking at the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of Carolina dog--the genetic material passed down through the matemal line, and a potent gauge of relationships among animals.    
   When the mtDNA from Carolina dogs, dingoes, singing dogs and a variety of domestic breeds are compared, a phylogenetic tree-a sort of family tree showing their relationships-can be made. In this tree, the Carolina dogs tended to clump together near the base, an intriguing though tentative result that suggests the Carolina dogs may possess primitive genetic traits.
   "Most of the dogs coming out at the base of the tree are Carolina dogs or dingoes," Glenn says. "If there were no basis to the argument that Carolinas are primitive, they'd be all over the tree, but they're grouped together." Glenn, who had initially assumed the Carolinas were just domestic dogs, admits he was stunned when he saw the results. "I had to go out for a beer."
   Brisbin is cautious in interpreting the results, especially since the mtDNA sequences of some domestic dogs also grouped with the Carolinas at the base of the tree. "It's interesting that at a preliminary stage, most all of the Carolina dogs turned out to be primitive"-but so did boxers, German shepherds and Labrador retrievers,
among others. It will take more research to sort out exactly what secrets are hiding in the "yafler" dog's genes.
   The Carolinas are part of what Brisbin calls "the great arc of the red
dog," the worldwide distribution of pariah canids. From their probable point of evolution somewhere in Southwest Asia or the Middle East, the ancestors of todays domestic dogs spread out in tandem with humans
into Africa; and southeast through Java, Australia, New Guinea and then island-hopping through the South Pacific in rafis and canoes; north through Korea, Japan, Siberia and then into North and South America.
 


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