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Domestication of cattle: two or three events?
Daniel Pitt 1, Natalia Sevane 1, Ezequiel L. Nicolazzi 2,
David E. MacHugh 3,4, Stephen D. E. Park 5, Licia Colli 6,
Rodrigo Martinez 7, Michael W. Bruford 1, Pablo Orozco-Terwengel 1

Wiley Online Library. June 28, 2018

Cattle domestication event map for taurine. Africa, Western Desert of Egypt
Cattle domestication event map for taurine. Africa, Western Desert of Egypt


Cattle have been invaluable for the transition of human societys from nomadic hunter-gatherers to sedentary farming communities throughout much of Europe, Asia and Africa since the earliest domestication of cattle more than 10,000 years ago. Although current understanding of relationships among ancestral populations remain limited, domestication of cattle is thought to have occurred on two or three occasions, giving rise to the taurine (Bos taurus) and indicine (Bos indicus) species that share the aurochs (Bos primigenius) as common ancestor ~250,000 years ago.
Indicine and taurine cattle were domesticated in the Indus Valley and Fertile Crescent, respectively; however, an additional domestication event for taurine in the Western Desert of Egypt has also been proposed.

We analysed medium density Illumina Bovine SNP array (~54,000 loci) data across 3,196 individuals, representing 180 taurine and indicine populations to investigate population structure within and between populations, and domestication and demographic dynamics using approximate Bayesian computation (ABC).
Comparative analyses between scenarios modelling two and three domestication events consistently favour a model with only two episodes, and suggest that the additional genetic variation component usually detected in African taurine cattle may be explained by hybridisation with local aurochs in Africa after the domestication of taurine cattle in the Fertile Crescent.
African indicine cattle exhibit high levels of shared genetic variation with Asian indicine cattle due to their recent divergence, and with African taurine cattle through relatively recent gene-flow.
Scenarios with unidirectional or bidirectional migratory events between European taurine and Asian indicine cattle are also plausible, although further studies are needed to disentangle the complex human-mediated dispersion patterns of domestic cattle. This study therefore helps to clarify the effect of past demographic history on the genetic variation of modern cattle, providing a basis for further analyses exploring alternative migratory routes for early domestic populations.


  1. School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, United Kingdom
  2. Parco Tecnologico Padano (PTP), Via Einstein, Cascina Codazza, Lodi, 26900, Italy
  3. Animal Genomics Laboratory, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, UCD College of Health and Agricultural Sciences, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, D04 V1W8, Ireland
  4. UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin, D04 V1W8, Ireland
  5. IdentiGEN Ltd., Blackrock Business Park, Blackrock, Dublin, A94 H2X4, Ireland  
  6. Istituto di Zootecnica e BioDNA Centro di Ricerca sulla Biodiversità e sul DNA Antico, Università Cattolica del S. Cuore di Piacenza, Piacenza, Italy 
  7. Corporación Colombiana De Investigación Agropecuaria (Corpoica), Centro de investigaciones Tibaitatá, Bogotá, Colombia


We thank Prof. J. Cañón and Prof. S. Dunner from Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) for their contribution of SNP array data. NS is a recipient of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship and has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No DLV-655100. DP is funded by BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship (BB/M009122/1). MWB and POTW are funded by BBSRC through FACCE-JPI ERA-NET Smart Agriculture Program (CLIMGEN CONSORTIUM; BB/M019276/1).

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