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Yak Genomes Give Insights into High Altitude Adaptations

A genetic study of the yak is published this week in Nature Communications, providing insights into the adaptations that enable the animal to thrive in high-altitude environments. While significant morphological differences exist between the wild (Bos mutus) and domestic yak (Bos grunniens), they share genetic features that have enabled them to live at the high elevations of Asia's Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. To better understand these features, a team led by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences used nanopore sequencing and Hi-C data to assemble chromosome-level genomes for the two yaks and applied an alignment-based strategy to compare long-read sequencing data with taurine cattle to identify structural variants associated with high-altitude adaptation. They also constructed a single-cell gene-expression atlas of yak and taurine cattle lungs using single-cell transcriptome sequencing, revealing a new subtype of endothelial cells specific to yak. Other findings include the identification of genes and pathways associated with the development of unique structures in yaks' lungs. The work, the study's authors write, has "important implications for understanding the physiological and pathological responses of large mammals and humans to hypoxia."