Tag: Pigs

Of pigs, people and porcine polygenism

By Razib Khan | April 20, 2010 6:25 am

800px-Wild_Pig_KSC02pd0873Jared Diamond famously argued in Guns, Germs and Steel that only a small set of organisms have the characteristics which make them viable domesticates. Diamond’s thesis is that the distribution of these organisms congenial to a mutualistic relationship with man shaped the arc of our species’ history and the variation in wealth that we see (though his a human-centric tale, we may enslave them, eat and use them as beasts of burden, but these are also species which have spread across the world with our expansion). This thesis has been challenged, but the bigger point of putting a focus on how humans relate to their domesticated animals, and the complex co-evolutionary path between the two, is something that we need to consider. In a plain biological and physical sense animals have utility; we eat them, and for thousands of years they were critical to our transportation networks. Some have argued that the rise of Islam, Arab monotheism, was contingent on the domestication of the camel (which opened up interior trade networks previously unaccessible). In The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World the argument is made that the distribution of the Indo-European languages has to do with the facility of Central Eurasian plainsmen with their steeds. And of course there is the domestic dog, arguably the one creature which is able to read our emotions as if they were a con-specific.

I suspect that the evolution and ethology of domesticated animals will offer a window into our own evolution and ethology. Konrad Lorenz famously believed that humans were going through their own process of domestication all the while that they were selecting organisms suited to their own needs. More pliable, less intelligent, faster growing and maturing, and so forth. Know thy companions, and know thyself, so to speak.

What about an animal as intelligent as a dog, but famously tasty? (the combination of the two characters causing some ethical tension in the minds of many) I speak here of the pig. A few years ago research came out which showed that pig-culture was introduced to Europe from the Middle East. That is, Middle Eastern pigs came with Middle Eastern people in all likelihood. But modern European pigs do not derive from these lineages, rather, by comparing modern genetic variation with ancient DNA the authors showed that the Neolithic pigs had been replaced by local breeds. Just as pigs can go feral and fend for themselves rather easily, it seems that their basic morph can be derived from wild boar populations easily as well (by contrast, it will perhaps take some effort to derive a pekingese from wolf populations, offering a reason for why small dogs seem to have emerged once). A new paper explores the evolutionary history and phylogeography of the pigs of the swine-loving societies par excellence, those of East Asia. Patterns of East Asian pig domestication, migration, and turnover revealed by modern and ancient DNA:
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Genetics, Genomics, Science

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