Scientists Compare The Genomes Of Red And Giant Pandas For The First Time

Posted: Jan 17 2017, 2:25pm CST | by , Updated: Jan 17 2017, 2:31pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Compare the Genomes of Red and Giant Pandas For the First Time
Credit: Katherine Feng/Minden Pictures

Study reveals why giant and red pandas have 'false thumbs' and fondness for bamboo

Red and Giant pandas share some common traits despite being distant relatives. Both like to eat bamboos and have developed a false thumb which is actually an abnormally enlarged wrist bone that functions almost like a thumb and allows pandas to firmly hold bamboo shoots while eating.

Red and giant pandas diverged from each other more than 40 million years ago and evolved separately ever since. Giant pandas are more closely related to bears, especially polar bears while red pandas are far smaller creature than the famous black and white panda species and they are a close relative of ferrets.

When two creatures independently develop similar traits while living in similar environmental conditions, it is called phenotypic convergence. But here, we have two panda species that evolved to have similar traits despite being very different. The phenomenon is known as adaptive convergence.

To find out exactly how such evolutionary distant species evolved few similar traits, researchers for the first time conducted genome sequencing of red panda and compared it with giant panda genome. It turned out that both pandas actually have 70 genes related to evolutionary changes, including two genes, DYNC2H1 and PCNT. These two genes are known to be important in the development of limbs and mutations in them can cause abnormalities in bones and muscles. These are likely the genes that have caused the development of false thumbs on pandas.

Seven other genes on the list could have contributed to adapting bamboo-centric diet in both pandas.

"Our findings provide rich insights into genetic convergence mechanisms underlying phenotypic convergence and adaptation to a specialized bamboo diet in both pandas," the researchers said in a statement.

"These findings demonstrate that genetic convergence occurred at multiple levels spanning metabolic pathways, amino acid convergence, and pseudogenization, providing a fascinating example for genome-scale convergent evolution analysis of dietary shift and specialization.”.

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