We all know Giraffes for its famous neck with great length. But not many of us know how the giraffe got its long neck. Researchers have discovered genes that are vital for the development of the tall stature as well as its strong cardiovascular system. This was published in Nature Communications on May 17.
Scientists have compiled the genome of giraffe and okapi, which is the giraffes’ short-necked cousin. They both had a 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 makes them different from sets of giraffes and okapis apart from other species of cattle. It was found that there was a difference of 400 genes among them.
Since there was so much 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 that 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 the 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 the giraffe to grow larger than those of other animals.
The researchers also found out that the gene FGFRL1, which is responsible for its physiological features, may as well be involved in strengthening the cardiovascular system to pump blood to the giraffe’s lofty brain. Such multifunctional genes may have allowed coordination of giraffes’ adaptations.
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 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.