2017 SMRT Grant Finalist
Dancing with Dingoes
Professor Bill Ballard, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Professor Claire Wade, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
About This Project
We propose to sequence the genome of a pure desert dingo called Sandy. Sandy and her two siblings were just three weeks old when they were inadvertently stumbled upon in the harsh central Australian desert not far from the Strzelecki Track. They were dehydrated, could barely walk, and were close to death. Fortunately, the three amigos were saved and raised under idyllic surrounds by Barry Eggleton – a man who has now devoted his life to them.
Why is this the most interesting genome in the world?
Darwin (1868) states that the process of domestication can be divided into two steps that we now call unconscious and artificial selection. Unconscious selection may be defined as non-intentional human selection, while artificial selection is the breeding of desirable traits. This is thought to be the process by which thousands of domestic animals and plants around the world have been produced and continue to be developed.
We aim, for the first time and in a unique case, to test Darwin’s hypothesis and differentiate the genomic and genetic processes involved in unconscious and artificial selection. The Australian dingo is the ideal species to explore these questions because it represents an intermediate step along the evolutionary pathway from wild wolves to domestic dogs.
What are the goals of this project?
- Advance the dingo as a functional intermediate between the wild wolf and domestic dogs to test Darwin’s (1868) hypothesis. It is now widely accepted that the dingo was not domesticated by Indigenous Australians and is therefore the ideal living population for the study.
- Pinpoint genes underlying the transition from wild animal to perfect pet in terms of temperament and behaviour. The non-domesticated behaviour and temperament of the dingo will be a ground-breaking and important tool in this discovery process.
- Develop a next-generation genetic test to distinguish pure dingoes from dingo-dog hybrids. Hybrids lose their cultural and biological identities, and so it is critical to reverse the march toward extinction of pure dingoes in Australia.
What is the global impact of your research?
Can we, as a species, live in a species rich world? Like many others before it, Australia’s top-order predator is in danger of extinction. This project is an important step in identifying and potentially preserving an iconic species that has been shown to preserve biodiversity by maintaining native ecosystems.
Learning more about the evolution and history of dingoes will inform indigenous culture. The dingo is a common feature in Australian Aboriginal dreamtime stories, which are an important part of the indigenous spiritualism and oral history. Likely, dingoes were brought to Australia with seafaring traders about 5,000 years ago. But where did these traders come from, and what influences did they have on the peoples living on the continent?
Project Team (in addition to PIs)
- Dr Richard Melvin, Evolutionary Geneticist, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
- Dr Robert Zammit, Veterinarian, Vineyard Veterinary Hospital, New South Wales, Australia
- Dr Andre Minoche, Computational Geneticist, Garvin Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia