There has been recent insight into adaptations, genetically and cellularly, that allow yaks to survive in high altitude environments. It has been determined that this ability to live in these kinds of environments could be a result of endothelial lung cells specific to yaks. The endothelial lung cells are a single layer lined with blood vessels that regulates the exchanges between the bloodstream and surrounding tissues. High altitude regions in the Tibetan Plateau are inhabited by both domestic and wild yaks. They experience low oxygen concentrations. Humans and other non-native mammals would experience extreme heart and lung issues if exposed to such low oxygen conditions. This is not the case for the yaks who have adapted to these conditions over millions of years.
A group of scientists explored just how yaks are adapted to these kinds of environments by combining transcriptomic and genomic data to present an exclusive genome assembly for both domestic and wild yaks. Transcriptomic data involves characterizing all transcription activity (both coding and non-coding) or a select subset of RNA transcripts within the sample. This analysis allows for the identification of candidate genes and expressed markers of traits of interest associated. This also included a map of the different lung cell types present. 127 genes were identified to be expressed differently in yaks compared to European cattle and identified a subtype of endothelial cells only found in the lung tissue of yaks. This specific cell type was shown to express genes involved in high altitude adaptation. These findings on genetic adaptations of yaks and high-altitude environments can be useful for future studies on how other mammals respond to low oxygen environments.
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