For the first time, researchers have sequenced the DNA of the yak to find out why this animal is well adapted to the extreme circumstances of high altitude living.
The yak, a long haired bovine, lives in the Himalayan part of Asia and has been used by the Tibetan people in a variety of ways over the long history the two have shared.
Although once the same species, yaks have proven over time to be far better at dealing with high mountain living than domestic cattle. Now, an international team of biologists and geneticists has thoroughly studied the genome of the yak to discover what genes make the animal suited to live at such high altitudes.
The researchers found three genes that help to regulate its response to low levels of oxygen in the air. In addition the team discovered five unique genes that optimize the way nutrition and energy are obtained from a scarce amount of food, allowing the yak to survive on a diet that would not support other animals of its size.
The sequencing may lead to a broader understanding of how all mammals react to high altitude conditions. According to Esciencenews: “Researchers explained that the study on high-altitude adaptation may help to improve current understanding, treatment, and prevention of altitude sickness and other hypoxia-related diseases in humans.”
Photo: Mandala Travel/Flickr
Qiang Qiu, Guojie Zhang, Tao Ma, Wubin Qian, Junyi Wang, Zhiqiang Ye, Changchang Cao, Quanjun Hu, Jaebum Kim, Denis M Larkin, Loretta Auvil, Boris Capitanu, Jian Ma, Harris A Lewin, Xiaoju Qian, Yongshan Lang, Ran Zhou, Lizhong Wang, Kun Wang, Jinquan Xia, Shengguang Liao, Shengkai Pan, Xu Lu, Haolong Hou, Yan Wang, Xuetao Zang, Ye Yin, Hui Ma, Jian Zhang, Zhaofeng Wang, Yingmei Zhang, Dawei Zhang, Takahiro Yonezawa, Masami Hasegawa, Yang Zhong, Wenbin Liu, Yan Zhang, Zhiyong Huang, Shengxiang Zhang, Ruijun Long, Huanming Yang, Jian Wang, Johannes A Lenstra, David N Cooper, Yi Wu, Jun Wang, Peng Shi, Jian Wang, & Jianquan Liu (2012). The yak genome and adaptation to life at high altitude. Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng.2343