No more ruminating over antler origins
Genes that help grow horns and antlers could also be behind cancer resistance in deer.
Many ruminant animals, with their multi-stomach systems, also have distinctive headgear, from cow horns to giraffe ossicones, but how and when these features evolved is unresolved.
Now, a team that included researchers from Northwestern Polytechnical University sequenced the genomes of different sheep, goat and deer species and found that horns and antlers evolved once from a common ancestor through changes in genes that also build skin, bone and nerves.
Chinese water deer and musk deer subsequently lost their headgear due to a mutation in one antler-promoting gene.
The team also found that several genes that control antler size also suppress tumour growth, potentially explaining the lower cancer rate observed in deer compared to other animals.
Deer antlers are the only fully regenerating organs among mammals. Understanding their evolution could contribute towards regenerative biology and cancer research.
- Science 364, 1153 (2019). doi: 10.1126/science.aav6335