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Senior author Professor Bill Ballard from La Trobe University said cracking the iconic Australian animal’s genetic code was a breakthrough for researchers.
“It gives us much clearer insight into how the dingo evolved – which is fascinating from a scientific point of view but also opens up all sorts of new ways to monitor their health, and ensure their long-term survival,” Professor Ballard said.
“If dingoes aren’t given the protection they deserve, it will upset the country’s ecological balance potentially leading to environmental issues like erosion and species extinction.”
Professor Ballard said one of the key differences between dingoes and dogs is the number of copies of the pancreatic “amylase” gene each has.
“A pure dingo has only one copy of the amylase gene, whereas domestic dogs have multiple copies – which we show influences the gut microbiome and, we predict, affects what dingoes eat,” Professor Ballard said.
“Based on this new knowledge, we hypothesise that dingoes are far less likely to eat farm animals, including sheep.
“If we’re correct, what farmers currently assume are dingoes killing their stock are likely to be feral wild dogs.”
Sandy Malaki, the pure desert dingo that was part of the study, was discovered as a three-week-old pup by a roadside in the central Australian desert near the Strzelecki Track, with her sister and brother.
Scientists lined up Sandy’s genome against a Greenland wolf and five domestic dog breeds including the German Shepherd, and the world’s oldest known dog breed, the Basenji.
The research, which took five years, has been published today in Science Advance.