Giraffe genome sequence reveals clues to its unique morphology and physiology

Morris Agaba, Edson Ishengoma, Webb C. Miller, Barbara C. McGrath, Chelsea N. Hudson, Oscar C. Bedoya Reina, Aakrosh Ratan, Rico Burhans, Rayan Chikhi, Paul Medvedev, Craig A. Praul, Lan Wu-Cavener, Brendan Wood, Heather Robertson, Linda Penfold, Douglas R. Cavener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The origins of giraffe's imposing stature and associated cardiovascular adaptations are unknown. Okapi, which lacks these unique features, is giraffe's closest relative and provides a useful comparison, to identify genetic variation underlying giraffe's long neck and cardiovascular system. The genomes of giraffe and okapi were sequenced, and through comparative analyses genes and pathways were identified that exhibit unique genetic changes and likely contribute to giraffe's unique features. Some of these genes are in the HOX, NOTCH and FGF signalling pathways, which regulate both skeletal and cardiovascular development, suggesting that giraffe's stature and cardiovascular adaptations evolved in parallel through changes in a small number of genes. Mitochondrial metabolism and volatile fatty acids transport genes are also evolutionarily diverged in giraffe and may be related to its unusual diet that includes toxic plants. Unexpectedly, substantial evolutionary changes have occurred in giraffe and okapi in double-strand break repair and centrosome functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11519
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - May 17 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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