Camel Genes Shaped By Ancient Trade

May 22, 2016 By Aarathi
Aarathi's picture

Think of deserts, and camels come to mind. These unique hump-backed animals have beautifully adapted to the harsh life on our planet's hot and arid deserts.

Deserts have highly variable temperatures and contain the lowest humidity or water content on our Earth. Even vegetation is limited to a few thorny shrubs and cacti. But camels have not just lived in these regions but also helped support human life there - be it meat, milk, leather or even dung which was used as fuel. 

Over the centuries, camels have accompanied caravans of people across continents. And so camels in far-off places have ended up with remarkably similar genes! 

Ship Of The Desert

The 7-ft mammals extract every bit of nutrition from their herbivorous or plant-based diets. Their humps store fat, which the camels use as a source of water and energy on the move. This means they can cover over 160 km or 100 miles in the desert without needing to drink water! These animals don't even sweat in the 49°C or 120°F desert heat. Long eyelashes protect their eyes from the sand, while large hooves help them move across the shifting dunes, even with heavy loads.

There are two types of camels - Bactrian and Arabian. The Bactrian camels have two humps and live in the rocky deserts of Central Asia and have also adapted to the severe winters of that region. The only truly wild camels in the world today belong to this species.

The Arabian camels are called dromedaries and have just one hump. They are found across North Africa and the Middle East and have been used to ferry loads across the deserts for over 3500 years! A number of these camels were introduced to Australia in the 19 century and are the only wild dromedaries remaining.

How Camel Genes Spread

A group of geneticists from Nottingham, Vienna and Saudi Arabia studied over 1080 dromedaries or Arabian camels. They compared the DNA of these camels from around the world - including the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, with DNA samples taken from ancient wild and domesticated camel fossils. 

They found a remarkable similarity at a DNA level - that is, even camels that were geographically separated shared very similar genes. The reason for such genetic diversity was clear. Many Arabian camels were an integral part of trading caravans that traveled long distances across continents. Often, merchants were forced to leave behind some exhausted animals and take fresh stock on their return journey. This led to centuries of cross-breeding, and very similar genes across camel populations in different areas.

This genetic shuffling means camels are also likely to adapt quickly to changing environments. With issues of climate change and desert areas growing around the world, camels could possibly cope much better with such changes than other species of livestock.

Comments

MayalilyDunn10's picture
MayalilyDunn10 January 6, 2017 - 7:15pm

Now I almost have a full box for my KWL.

isabellal's picture
isabellal October 24, 2016 - 9:45am

THATS SO COOL I LOVE HISTORY AND ANIMALS !!!

swesweisepic's picture
swesweisepic June 24, 2016 - 11:37pm

Wow..that's cool!!They can adapt to any environment!!

drumdude25k's picture
drumdude25k June 8, 2016 - 11:29am
super awesome
gabejohnston26's picture
gabejohnston26 June 8, 2016 - 11:26am
wow that's cool
jakisbos's picture
jakisbos June 8, 2016 - 11:26am
that pretty cool!
banananaman's picture
banananaman June 8, 2016 - 11:24am
Awesome!!
Marmotron's picture
Marmotron June 8, 2016 - 11:21am
Weird...
ilyas2's picture
ilyas2 June 6, 2016 - 5:16am

wow pretty epic

banananaman's picture
banananaman June 1, 2016 - 12:56pm

cool!

Bolt123456's picture
Bolt123456 June 1, 2016 - 12:51pm

WOW

Aditya08's picture
Aditya08 May 26, 2016 - 3:52pm

At least you don't need to feed camels like horses!

drumdude25k's picture
drumdude25k May 26, 2016 - 1:34pm

Whoa, That's so cool!