Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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10-Mar-2005

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From wild boars to pigs



Domestic pigs. [Image courtesy of Jeff Veitch] Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Imagine that Porky Pig has Italian cousins named "Paolo Pig" and "Piera Pig" who love both science and pig history.

Paolo and Piera know that the pigs we have on farms are the result of a process called domestication, which begins with wild animals and involves many generations of carefully controlled breeding combined with other factors.



Domestic pigs. [Image courtesy of Jeff Veitch] Click here for a high resolution photograph.

There is no complete list of all the places around the world that people domesticated pigs. Evidence from ancient pig bones points to domestication in the Near East (eastern Turkey), starting around 9,000 years ago.

Much to Paolo and Piera's excitement, scientists now say that people also domesticated pigs in central Italy, India, Burma/Thailand and western Indonesia or New Guinea.

These findings appear in a study in the 11 March, 2005 issue of the journal Science.

Piera is captivated by the idea that people in many places around the world domesticated wild boars and that pig domestication was probably relatively common and widespread.



Domestic pigs. [Image courtesy of Jeff Veitch] Click here for a high resolution photograph.

These new insights into the geography of pig domestication are possible because scientists have access to the genetic records of domestic pigs and their tusked ancestors, the wild boars.

Greger Larson from the Ancient Biomolecules Centre at the University of Oxford in Oxford, UK and his colleagues from around the world discovered that, for the most part, domestic pigs and wild boars from the same area share certain genetic information. This shared information suggests that many years ago some of the wild boars in this region were domesticated and became the ancestors to the pigs that now live there.

The researchers collected and analyzed DNA sequences from the jaw bones and teeth of pigs and wild boars. The DNA comes from parts of cells called mitochondria.

Greger Larson used many of the same techniques that scientists recently used to pull DNA out of ancient bison bones in present-day Alaska and Canada. Follow the example of Piera and Paolo and find out more about what DNA can tell us about ancient bison. Read the Science News for Kids story.

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