The genomic history and global expansion of domestic donkeys

Science. 2022 Sep 9;377(6611):1172-1180. doi: 10.1126/science.abo3503. Epub 2022 Sep 8.


Donkeys transformed human history as essential beasts of burden for long-distance movement, especially across semi-arid and upland environments. They remain insufficiently studied despite globally expanding and providing key support to low- to middle-income communities. To elucidate their domestication history, we constructed a comprehensive genome panel of 207 modern and 31 ancient donkeys, as well as 15 wild equids. We found a strong phylogeographic structure in modern donkeys that supports a single domestication in Africa ~5000 BCE, followed by further expansions in this continent and Eurasia and ultimately returning to Africa. We uncover a previously unknown genetic lineage in the Levant ~200 BCE, which contributed increasing ancestry toward Asia. Donkey management involved inbreeding and the production of giant bloodlines at a time when mules were essential to the Roman economy and military.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animals
  • Asia
  • Domestication*
  • Equidae* / classification
  • Equidae* / genetics
  • Genome*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny