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Genome of Dragons

Researchers have sequenced the genomes of two Komodo dragons living at Zoo Atlanta to tease out genetic adaptations that enable it to move long distances, the International Business Times reports. Reptiles, it notes, typically lack aerobic capacity and become tired after physical exertion, but Komodo dragons can ramp up their metabolisms to near-mammalian levels.

A Gladstone Institutes-led team sequenced the genome of the Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, using a combination of long-range sequencing and single-molecule optical mapping and compared it to the genomes of related species. As they report in Nature Ecology & Evolution this week, the researchers uncovered evidence of selection on pathways related to energy metabolism, cardiovascular homeostasis, and hemostasis within the Komodo dragon genome.

"Our study showed us that the secret is in these mitochondrial adaptations to increase their cardiac output," Zoo Atlanta's Joseph Mendelson says in a statement. "This gives us an understanding of how these animals are able to do what we had been observing."

The researchers also uncovered a high number of vomeronasal chemosensory receptor genes in the Komodo dragon, which they say could enable it to detect its prey over long distances, as well as an adaptation that makes it immune to its own venom anticoagulant.