The New Guinea singing dog became known for its unique and characteristic vocalization, capable of producing pleasant and harmonic sounds.

An image of the New Guinea Singing Dog, singing.

The New Guinea Singing Dog, a species that it was believed missing for half a century, continues to roam in the wild through the highlands of the Indonesian island. The finding, published this Monday in the magazine PNAS, has been carried out by researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) -integrated in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States-, and the University of Cenderawasih in Indonesia, among other centers.

The New Guinea Singing Dog was first studied in 1897 and became known for its unique and characteristic vocalization, capable of producing pleasant sounds and harmonics with tonal quality but since the 1970s none have been seen in the wild. Now, this new finding will not only help protect this extraordinary creature but will also serve to study human vocal disorders, their origin and possible treatment.

Until today, there was only evidence of the existence of some 200-300 specimens in captivity in conservation centers where inbreeding produced a loss of genetic diversity that not only threatened the survival of the species, but also made it difficult to study the origins of New Guinea song dogs.

But in New Guinea there is another breed of dog that roams the highlands in the wild, the so-called ‘Wild Dog of the highlands’, whose physical appearance is strikingly similar to that of New Guinea song dogs and is considered the rarest and oldest animal in existence: it predates human agriculture and has not been subjected to human-driven selective breeding to perfect current races.

For decades, researchers hypothesized that these wild dogs could be the predecessor to the captive song dogs of New Guinea, but the solitary nature of these dogs and the lack of genomic information precluded testing the theory.

Until in 2016, the New Guinea Highland Wild Dog Foundation sent an expedition to Puncak Jaya, a mountain top in Papua, Indonesia, and discovered fifteen specimens in the wild at about 4,000 meters of altitude. For three years, the researchers collected blood samples in their natural environment, as well as demographic, physiological and behavioral data.

The same race

Heidi Parker of the NHGRI, who compared the DNA of captive song dogs in New Guinea and wild dogs in the highlands, explains that “song dogs and wild dogs have very similar genomic sequences, much closer to each other than to any other known canid. In the tree of life, this makes them much more related to each other than modern breeds like the German Shepherd or the Bassett dog. “

For the researchers, New Guinea song dogs and wild highland dogs do not have identical genomes not because they are different breeds, but because of the inbreeding among song dogs and because of their physical separation over several decades.

In fact, the study concludes that the vast genomic similarities between song dogs and wild dogs indicate that despite the different names, they are the same race, showing that the original New Guinea song dog population is not extinct in the wild.

Researchers believe that breeding some wild highland dogs with song dogs from New Guinea conservation centers will help generate a true New Guinea song dog population, and with it, preserve the original breed.

In addition, although song dogs and wild ones are part of the canine species Canis lupus familiaris, the researchers discovered that each of them contains genomic variants in their genomes that do not exist in other dogs that we know today.

What they can teach

“By getting to know these ancient proto-dogs more, we will learn new facts about modern dog breeds and the history of domestication of dogs“Explains Elaine Ostrander, a researcher at the NIH and lead author of the paper.

The study further announces that the researchers will study New Guinea’s song dogs in greater detail “to learn more about the genomics underlying vocalization,” a field that, to date, relies heavily on data on the song of the birds.

Since humans are biologically closer to dogs than they are to birds, the researchers hope that studying New Guinea song dogs will help gain a more accurate view of how they are produced. vocalization and its deficits, and the genomic rationale that could lead to future treatments for human patients.