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Giraffe’s long neck linked to its genetic profile

Influences on embryonic development may explain unusual height, strength of heart

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11:00am, May 17, 2016
giraffes

GIRAFFE GENES  Giraffes’ long necks and strong hearts may have resulted from changes to genes that control embryonic development. Pictured is a bachelor group of three adult male Masai giraffes in Tanzania.

Giraffes’ genes tell a not-so-tall tale about growing necks to great lengths.

Tweaks to genes important for development may account for both the giraffe’s stature and turbocharged cardiovascular system, researchers report May 17 in Nature Communications.

Researchers compiled the genetic instruction book, or genome, for both the giraffe and the okapi, its short-necked closest living relative. Those two species’ most recent common ancestor lived about 11.5 million years ago, says Douglas Cavener, a geneticist at Penn State University. Overall, giraffes and okapis still have very similar genes, with 19.4 percent that are identical.

The researchers compared giraffe, okapi and cattle genomes to see what sets giraffes and okapis apart from other ungulates. About 400 genes differ between those species and cattle.

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