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This Week in Nature: May 19, 2016

In Nature Communications this week, a team led by University of Pennsylvania scientists report on the sequenced genomes of the giraffe and okapi — two members of the family Giraffidae — providing insights into the evolution of the giraffe's unique shape, as well as hoofed animals in general. An analysis of the genomes showed that the giraffe’s stature and cardiovascular adaptations likely evolved in parallel through changes in a small number of genes. Meanwhile, a comparison of the giraffe and okapi genomes suggested that the giraffe's long neck is the result of changes in two sets of proteins — one controlling gene expression during body and limb development, and the other controlling expression of growth factors. Notably, a number of the gene encoding these proteins are known to regulate cardiovascular development, indicating that the giraffe's shape evolved at the same time as a circulatory system capable of accommodating it. GenomeWeb has more on this study here.

And in Nature Genetics, investigators from the New York Genome Center present data describing genetic variants that affect more than one human disease or trait, even seemingly unrelated ones. They analyzed genome-wide association data for 42 traits or diseases for which large-scale datasets exist, including anthropomorphic traits such as height, neurological diseases including Alzheimer's disease, and susceptibility to infection. The investigators discovered 341 genomic variation loci associated with at least two traits, including variants that were associated with late onset of puberty in girls and voice drop in boys, lower body mass index, and increased height in both sexes. They also found a small association between individual genetic variants that increase the risk for schizophrenia with the autoimmune diseases Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. GenomeWeb also covers this here.