Researchers uncover Yak genes responsible for their altitude tolerance

Jul 03, 2012 by Bob Yirka report
Researchers uncover Yak genes responsible for their altitude tolerance
Venn diagram showing unique and shared gene families between the yak, cattle, dog and human genomes. Image (c) Nature Genetics (2012) doi:10.1038/ng.2343

(Phys.org) -- For some four thousand years, people in Tibet have relied on Yaks to help them survive in the high altitudes in which they live. The Yaks have proven over time that they are far better at dealing with high mountain living than are cows, which are more prevalent in other societies around the world. Scientists have known for years that cows and Yaks are closely related, and that the two were once the same species, having diverged just shy of five million years ago, which is roughly the same time span that humans and chimps went their separate ways. Now, new research by an international team of biologists and geneticists has taken apart the Yak genome and found, as they describe in their paper published in Nature Genetics, the genes that are responsible for allowing the Yak to thrive at such high altitudes.

The Yak (Bos grunniens for the domesticated variety) is a long haired bovine that lives in the Himalayan part of Asia and has been used by people in a variety of ways over the long history the two have shared, e.g. for transport, farming, food and shelter. Up until now however, the DNA of the animal had not been thoroughly studied.

In this new research, the team has found that the Yak possesses several genes that make it particularly suited for living. Three of them help to regulate its response to low levels of oxygen in the air, which can result in hypoxia, a condition that causes distress in other animals, such as difficulty breathing, panic, nausea, dizziness and of course passing out altogether and , which is where fluid collects in the tissues. The team also found five unique genes that control the way energy is obtained from the food the Yak eat, optimizing for the scarce amount available, allowing them to survive on a diet that would not support other animals of its size.

The genetic findings by the team are expected to lead to advances in research in other areas, such as ways to help people better tolerate the extreme conditions present at high altitudes and perhaps better ways to treat those that succumb to its effects.

Explore further: Better genes for better beans

More information: The yak genome and adaptation to life at high altitude, Nature Genetics (2012) doi:10.1038/ng.2343

Abstract
Domestic yaks (Bos grunniens) provide meat and other necessities for Tibetans living at high altitude on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and in adjacent regions. Comparison between yak and the closely related low-altitude cattle (Bos taurus) is informative in studying animal adaptation to high altitude. Here, we present the draft genome sequence…

Related Stories

Heart-healthy yak cheese

Mar 17, 2008

In a finding likely to get cheese lovers talking, researchers in Nepal and Canada report that yak cheese contains higher levels of heart-healthy fats than cheese from dairy cattle, and may be healthier. Their ...

Recommended for you

Living in the genetic comfort zone

7 hours ago

The information encoded in the DNA of an organism is not sufficient to determine the expression pattern of genes. This fact has been known even before the discovery of epigenetics, which refers to external ...

Better genes for better beans

13 hours ago

Some of the most underappreciated crops could soon become the most valuable tools in agriculture with new research from the Centre for Underutilised Crops at the University of Southampton. Coordinator Mark Chapman has created ...

Aggressive plant fungus threatens wheat production

13 hours ago

The spread of exotic and aggressive strains of a plant fungus is presenting a serious threat to wheat production in the UK, according to research published in Genome Biology. The research uses a new survei ...

A taxi ride to starch granules

14 hours ago

Plant scientists at ETH have discovered a specific protein that significantly influences the formation of starch in plant cells. The findings may be useful in the food and packaging industries.

Lager yeast ancestors were full of eastern promise

15 hours ago

There are few drinks as iconic as a 'pint of the black stuff'. It might, therefore, surprise beer connoisseurs to learn that the DNA of the all-important brewing yeast – the building blocks of the perfect Stout – is the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.