Why can Tibetan antelope live at elevations of 4,000-5,000m on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau? In a collaborative research effort published online in an open-access article on May 14, 2013 in Nature Communications, investigators from Qinghai University, BGI, and other institutes present the draft genome sequence of the Tibetan antelope and provide evidence that some genetic factors may be associated with the species' adaption to harsh highland environments. The data in this work will also provide implications for studying specific genetic mechanisms and the biology of other ruminant species. The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) is a native of the high mountain steppes and semi-desert areas of the Tibetan plateau. Interestingly, it is the only member of the genus Pantholops. Tibetan antelope is a medium-sized antelope with unique adaptations to survive in the harsh high-altitude climate. For non-native mammals such as humans, they may experience life-threatening acute mountain sickness when visiting high-altitude regions. In this study, researchers suggest that Tibetan antelopes must have evolved exceptional mechanisms to adapt to this extremely inhospitable habitat. Using next-gen sequencing technology, they have decoded the genome of theTibetan antelope and studied the underlying genetic mechanism of high-altitude adaptations. Through the comparison between Tibetan antelope and other plain-dwelling mammals, researchers found the Tibetan antelope had the signals of adaptive evolution and gene-family expansion in genes associated with energy metabolism and oxygen transmission, indicating that gene categories involved in energy metabolism appear to have an important role for Tibetan antelope via efficiently providing energy in conditions of low partial pressure of oxygen (pO2).
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