How Giraffes Got Their Long Necks

The tallest land animal in the world, the giraffe have some interesting characteristics.   Like humans, the animal’s neck has seven vertebrae, but they are elongated.  For blood to circulate in the brain, its heart must pump to a height of about two metres- a act made possible by blood pressure more than of humans, thick-walled blood vessels and unusual heart structure.

Now, a new research into the giraffe genome has revealed genetic variations that might be behind unusual adaptation to cardiovascular system and neck length.

Writing in Nature Communications Journal, scientists from the US, Tanzania and UK, describe how they sequenced two Masai giraffes’ genomes. These genomes were compared with okapi, a stripy-legged animal that is believed to be the giraffe’s closest relative. Variations discovered in the protein-coding sequences of giraffes were then compared with 40 other corresponding genes, from mammals such as mice and camels, and evaluated for their influence.

The result was the discovery of genes with variations particular to giraffe. According to researchers, these genes could be behind the unusual adaptation in the animal. Over 35 genes were found to code for proteins involved regulating the development neural system, skeleton and cardiovascular system, with some believed to influence factors that determine elongation of vertebrae.



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