Be the most informed person in the room with Newsy's free e-newsletter

View our privacy policy: http://www.newsy.com/privacy/
Obama's Final Days As President
Featured Series: Obama's Final Days As President
President Obama's days as Commander in Chief are numbered, but that hasn't stopped him from making some last-minute moves.  

The Longest Neck In The Animal Kingdom Is Thanks To A Handful Of Genes

Giraffes are separated from their okapi cousins by just a few genetic quirks.
SMS

The only thing that separates giraffes from their smaller cousins — besides a lot of vertical space — is a handful of genes. 

Scientists have sequenced the giraffe genome for the first time, and they found that the genes responsible for the animals' long necks are also responsible for their unusually strong hearts.

Researchers compared giraffes to okapi, their closest relative, to spot the genetic quirks. More than half of the giraffe's specialized genes control development of its skeletal and cardiovascular systems.

In other words, a giraffe isn't just a stretched okapi. To evolve such a long neck, giraffes had to evolve better hearts, too.

A giraffe's blood pressure is twice as high as that of other mammals. Its heart has to be small and muscular to send blood 6 feet upward against gravity.

"As its neck extended out, its cardiovascular system was also changing in tandem. And some of the same genes were actually controlling both processes in concert," said Penn State's Douglas Cavener.

Researchers want to test some of those skeletal growth genes in mice. They're not expecting long-necked mice, but they're hoping to see changes in skeletal structure.

This video includes clips from The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Detroit Zoo and Penn State University, and images from Getty Images, Doug Cavener and Radio Okapi / CC BY 2.0. Music provided courtesy of APM Music.

Featured Stories
Candles are lit during a vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.

FBI Officials Arrested The Wife Of The Orlando Nightclub Shooter

Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell in "A Night at the Roxbury."

When It Comes To Numbers For Women In Film, It Might As Well Be 1998

A man walks through the European Parliament

Election Of Top EU Official Gets Little Attention Before Vote

Want to see more stories like this?
Like Newsy on Facebook for More Animals Coverage