Evolutionary analysis of vision genes identifies potential drivers of visual differences between giraffe and okapi

Edson Ishengoma, Morris Agaba, Douglas R. Cavener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background. The capacity of visually oriented species to perceive and respond to visual signal is integral to their evolutionary success. Giraffes are closely related to okapi, but the two species have broad range of phenotypic differences including their visual capacities. Vision studies rank giraffe's visual acuity higher than all other artiodactyls despite sharing similar vision ecological determinants with many of them. The extent to which the giraffe's unique visual capacity and its difference with okapi is reflected by changes in their vision genes is not understood. Methods. The recent availability of giraffe and okapi genomes provided opportunity to identify giraffe and okapi vision genes. Multiple strategies were employed to identify thirty-six candidate mammalian vision genes in giraffe and okapi genomes. Quantification of selection pressure was performed by a combination of branch-site tests of positive selection and clade models of selection divergence through comparing giraffe and okapi vision genes and orthologous sequences from other mammals. Results. Signatures of selection were identified in key genes that could potentially underlie giraffe and okapi visual adaptations. Importantly, some genes that contribute to optical transparency of the eye and those that are critical in light signaling pathway were found to show signatures of adaptive evolution or selection divergence. Com- parison between giraffe and other ruminants identifies significant selection divergence in CRYAA and OPN1LW. Significant selection divergence was identified in SAG while positive selection was detected in LUM when okapi is compared with ruminants and other mammals. Sequence analysis of OPN1LW showed that at least one of the sites known to affect spectral sensitivity of the red pigment is uniquely divergent between giraffe and other ruminants. Discussion. By taking a systemic approach to gene function in vision, the results provide the first molecular clues associated with giraffe and okapi vision adaptations. At least some of the genes that exhibit signature of selection may reflect adaptive response to differences in giraffe and okapi habitat. We hypothesize that requirement for long distance vision associated with predation and communication with conspecifics likely played an important role in the adaptive pressure on giraffe vision genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3145
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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