By sequencing over 50% of the genome of a Bactrian camel, researchers at the Vienna’s University of Veterinary Medicine have made a significant contribution to population genetic research on camels. The study has laid the foundation for future scientific work on these enigmatic desert animals. A blood sample from a single Bactrian camel with the evocative name of "Mozart" (Mozart himself is shown in a reflective pose at left--photo by Thomas Lipp) provided the genetic raw material for the work, which was undertaken by Dr. Pamela Burger and her colleague Dr. Nicola Palmieri at the Institute of Population Genetics within the University. The report describing the sequencing was published online in an open-access article on March 1, 2013 in the Journal of Heredity. Camels are divided into two species, the one-humped dromedary and the two-humped Bactrian camel. Whether equipped with one or two humps, camels are precious in desert regions throughout the world. Their ability to carry heavy loads over long distances makes them ideally suited for transportation. In addition, camels are able to survive for weeks in hostile environments without food and water. Despite the extremely arid conditions, camels still provide enough milk for human consumption and also have an important role as a source of meat. Camels are specialists when it comes to adapting to the environment and have been characterized as sustainable food producers. Dr. Pamela Burger heads one of the few research groups in Europe that study camel genetics. Dr. Burger and her colleagues are primarily interested in the domestication of camels, which took place around 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. Genetic data provide important clues on the breeding strategies and selection processes that were applied by humans at that time.
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