STUDY TEAM: Simon Stretton, Dr Kylie Cairns and James Cook University vet students Jacqui Pacholec and Simone Rowe .
STUDY TEAM: Simon Stretton, Dr Kylie Cairns and James Cook University vet students Jacqui Pacholec and Simone Rowe . Tobi Loftus

What can we learn from Dingo DNA?

DINGOS at the Durong Dingo Sanctuary are being used to help answer one of humanity's life-long questions - where did we come from?

Dr Kylie Cairns from the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales, who recently completed a PhD looking at the genetic variations of dingos across Australia, said testing of the dingos' genes might not only answer where the dingos were originally from, but also humans.

"What I found is there are two populations of dingos, one that is found in most of the country, but more commonly in the north-western parts of Australia, and the other is restricted to south-east Australia, so around the New South Wales, Victoria area,” Dr Cairns said.

"The fact there are two lineages can lead to questions about whether there might be two lineages because they adapted to Australia, or because they came from different parts of Asia. Then why did they come from different parts of Asia, who brought them, did they come at different times.

"It also tells us very interesting things about humans, where humans were moving around the world and how dogs, man's best friend, also evolved.”

Dr Kylie Cairns plays with Dingos at the Durong Dingo Sanctuary.
Dr Kylie Cairns plays with Dingos at the Durong Dingo Sanctuary. Tobi Loftus

Dr Cairns visited the Durong Sanctuary on Wednesday, on her way to giving a speech about the apex predator on Fraser Island. She had previously tested DNA samples from dingos to look at hybridisation.

"(The dingos here are) really important as they come from different parts of Queensland and other parts of Australia,” she said.

"We've got to have sanctuaries that have dingos from around the country. If you don't have dingos that are diverse, you don't know what their identity is. It's also easier to sample from captive dingos.”

Dr Cairns said the dingo most likely evolved from an old type of dog 20,000 years ago.

"They then travelled through South East Asia into Australia,” she said.

"If you do molecular dating on mitochondrial lineage, you find the divergent time is about 10,000 years ago, which suggests dingos arrived in Australia 8000 to 10,000 years ago, not 5000 years as most people say they did.”

Dr Cairns said she would continue to use DNA from Durong dingos for future research.

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