The genome sequence of both the wild and domestic bactrian camel is reported this week in Nature Communications. The genome may help to explain why camels can tolerate a high dietary intake of salt yet don’t develop diabetes or hypertension and the work provides a resource for research into the mechanisms that enable camels to survive extreme environments.
Wild bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus ferus) reside in north western China and south western Mongolia and are the lone survivors of old world camels. Archaeozoological records show that they were present around 3000 BC, however their number currently tallies only 730-880 and they are considered a critically endangered species. He Meng and colleagues now sequence the genomes of an 8-year-old wild male Bactrian camel and a 6-year-old Alashan bactrian camel, both from Mongolia, in order to better understand the history of their evolution and domestication.
The team identify 2,730 genes that evolve significantly faster in camels than in cattle and mapped them to signalling pathways, which include those related to metabolism. The authors suggest that the accelerated evolution of these particular pathways may have helped camels to optimize their energy storage and production in the desert. They also discover adaptations in genes of the insulin signalling pathway that may explain camels’ high insulin resistance and high blood glucose without the development of diabetes.