March 11, 2005 -- Scientists at Uppsala University and the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences have been participating in an international collaborative project to map the wild origins of the domesticated pig. The findings show that the wild boar was domesticated several times in different parts of Europe and Asia. The study is being presented in today's issue of the scientific journal Science.
The domestication of animals and plants some 10,000 years ago led to the most significant socioeconomic transformation in the history of humankind. Nevertheless, our knowledge of how this process took place is still highly limited.
The domesticated pig provides a unique opportunity to study domestication, since there are viable populations of wild boar in major parts of its original area of habitation. The wild ancestors of many other tamed animals, such as horses and cattle, are extinct. Wild boars inhabit major sections of Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
For the first time ever, the study now being published has included DNA samples from wild boars from major parts of its area of habitation. The results have been compared with the DNA profiles of various breeds of domesticated pigs in Europe and Asia. The researchers have analyzed a section of DNA found in the mitochondria.
The new findings show that domestication must have taken place in several different geographical regions in both Europe and Asia. Moreover, it is highly probable that domestication took place in many places within each respective region. This means that it was the technology for domesticating the wild boar that spread across the world, not domesticated wild boar as such.
The new study also clearly demonstrates that the DNA profile of European domesticated pigs is very similar to that found among today's European wild boar and is distinct from that found by scientists in Turkey and Iran. This contradicts earlier theories that the wild boar was never domesticated in Europe and that domestication took place in the Middle East.
However, the new findings do not exclude the possibility that the very first domesticated pigs did in fact come from the Middle East. But if that was the case, after an initial period there was extensive domestication of wild boars in Europe that diluted any early contribution from other geographical areas.
Materials provided by Swedish Research Council. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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