Researchers have found the gene responsible for giraffe’s long neck

We all know Giraffes for its famous neck with great length. But not many of us know how the giraffe actually got its long neck. Researchers have discovered genes which are vital for the development for the tall stature as well as its strong cardiovascular system. This was published in Nature Communications in May 17.

Scientist have compiled the genome of giraffe and okapi which is the giraffes short necked cousin. They both had common ancestor who lived around 11 million years ago. Both the animals share similar genes having 19 percent to be identical.

They also compared cattle genomes with giraffe’s gene to see what actually make them different from sets giraffes and okapis apart from other species of cattle. It was found that there was a difference of 400 genes among them.

Since there were so much of variation some unique genes were responsible for its physiology and the unusual height.

Among the giraffe’s most distinctively altered genes are some that are well known to regulate embryo development. The researchers found out the alterations in several genes which govern the skeletal development that included the gene FGFRL1.

FGFRL1 gene encodes a protein that is responsible for regulating the size of body segments. The bones of Giraffes are somewhat bigger as compared to okapi who have same number of vertebral bones. FGFRL1 protein in giraffe  contains seven amino acids which are completely different than those found in other mammals. These amino acid differences may change the way the protein works and allow body parts of giraffe to grow larger than those of other animals.

The researchers also found out that the gene FGFRL1 which is responsible for its physiological feature may as well be involved in  strengthening the cardiovascular system in order to pump blood all the way to the giraffe’s lofty brain. Such multi functional genes may have allowed coordination of giraffes’ adaptations.

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Michael Hiller, an evolutionary genomicist at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany says that it provides very compelling candidates for genes that shaped the giraffe evolution.

More research is required to show that fiddling with those genes would actually lead to a strong cardiovascular system as well as bigger bones. Hiller also commented by saying he has doubts that scientists have found all the genetic secrets to giraffes’ many evolutionary innovations.

Even though giraffes have a unique appearance, these leaf eaters did not invent any new genetic tricks to change their hearts and necks. It wasn’t created by new genes but by modification of the genes in them.

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