New York: Leaving maternal genetics behind, researchers have for the first time investigated ancestry, including the Y chromosome or paternal line, across the red fox genome.
The data, inclusive of 1,000 individuals from all over the world, exposed some surprises about the origins, journey and evolution of the red fox - the world's most widely distributed land carnivore.
"The genome and the information it contains about our ancestry and evolution is huge. If you are only looking at what your mother's mother's mother did, you are only getting a small portion of the story," said lead author Mark Statham, assistant project scientist from the University of California, Davis in the US.
Scientists studying the evolution of the red fox had been attempting to trace the genetic history of humankind using only information from the mother's side.
Conventional thinking based on maternal genetics suggested that red foxes of Eurasia and North America composed a single interconnected population across the Bering land bridge between Asia and Alaska.
Recent research shows that the red foxes of North America and Eurasia have been almost entirely reproductively isolated from one another for roughly 400,000 years.
During this time, the North American red fox evolved into a new species distinct from its Old World ancestors.
The previous view was distorted by the maternal picture because a single female line transferred from Asia to Alaska about 50,000 years ago, researchers noted.
"The new genetic research further suggests that the first red foxes originated in the Middle East before beginning their journey of colonisation across Eurasia to Siberia, across the Bering Strait and into North America, where they eventually founded the North American population," Statham explained.
That small group that got across the Bering Strait went on to colonise a whole continent and are on their own evolutionary path, concluded the study that appeared in the journal Molecular Ecology.