Research suggests that ancient trading routes are responsible for shaping the genetics of the dromedary.
Scientists have cracked the genetic code of the one-humped Arabian camel or dromedary and revealed some exciting facts about the evolutionary history of the animal.
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A team of researchers, led by Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna’s Pamela Burger, have examined the DNA samples of more than 1,000 present-day camels as well as some early domesticated and wild extinct ancestors.
Despite the fact those camels belonged to separate locations, they showed remarkably similar genetics, suggesting they may have experienced high levels of gene flow. Gene flow, also called migration, is the transfer of genetic material from one population to another.
The camel has been domesticated for thousands of years and people from arid parts of the world use this animal for food and for transportation of goods. Their ability to withstand harsher and hostile conditions makes them highly dependable for millions of people living in the dry, sandy regions across the globe. Despite its long history of domestication, people know very little about the origin and evolution of the animal.
“Many open questions remain with regard to the dromedary’s domestication and evolutionary history,” said Pamela Burger. “We have managed to turn the wild dromedary into a domesticate, but we don’t know how and where domestication began and what effect it has had on today’s animal.”
Researchers have found that long distance, back and forth movements of ancient caravans shaped the animal’s genetic diversity and kept different populations of dromedary in contact with each other. Only one population of East Africa was not influenced by the gene flow because it has remained relatively isolated due to geographical hurdles and less cultural interaction.
Researchers have also been able to trace the origin of the animal. They dug into the DNA from bones of wild and early domesticated one humped camels and compared them with modern dromedaries across the globe and found that the animal was first domesticated in Middle East and Africa.
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“Our results appear to confirm that the first domestication of wild dromedaries occurred on the southeast coast. This was followed by repeated breeding of wild dromedaries with the early domesticated population,” Burger explains. “The wild ancestor’s of today’s dromedary had a geographically limited range and went extinct around 2,000 years after the first domestication.”