Genome study finds roots of Komodo dragon's tenaciousness
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[July 30, 2019]
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists have
mapped the genome of the Komodo dragon, the world's largest lizard,
discovering intriguing secrets behind the impressive speed and endurance
these cold-blooded predators muster by ratcheting up their metabolism to
Researchers said on Monday they pinpointed crucial genetic adaptations
that may underpin the tenaciousness of these lizards that inhabit
several Indonesian islands including Komodo and bring down prey as big
as a water buffalo with a venomous bite.
Komodo dragons reach up to about 10 feet (3 meters) long, possess curved
and serrated teeth, a yellow forked tongue, strong limbs and a long
"This is an apex predator living on isolated islands, and it's
absolutely gigantic. It's just an awesome animal," said Benoit Bruneau,
director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease,
affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, one of the
senior authors of the study published in the journal Nature Ecology &
"Reptiles are kind of like a playground for evolution. There is so much
diversity in size and form and behavior and their physiology," Bruneau
The team sequenced the genome using blood samples of two Komodo dragons
housed at Zoo Atlanta, named Slasher and Rinca.
The researchers discovered genetic adaptations involving the function of
the mitochondria, the power generators of cells that are critical in
governing the function of cardiac and other muscles, that may amplify
the lizard's aerobic capacity.
As cold-blooded creatures, reptiles typically lack in aerobic capacity,
rapidly becoming exhausted after physical exertions, unlike warm-blooded
mammals. Komodo dragons, an exception among reptiles, can achieve
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A Komodo dragon, named Ganas, eats a raw egg at London Zoo in
London, Britain, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
The researchers also found adaptations involving genes that control
chemical sensors involved in an advanced sensory system that lets
Komodo dragons detect hormones, the body's chemical messengers, and
pheromones, chemicals released particularly by mammals that serve as
cues to other members of their species.
These adaptations may help Komodo dragons find prey over long
distances, added study co-author Katherine Pollard, director of the
Gladstone Institute of Data Science & Biotechnology.
One component of the Komodo dragon's venom is an anti-coagulant
compound that prevents the victim's blood from clotting, causing it
to bleed to death. The researchers found adaptations in Komodo
dragon genes involved in coagulation that make these lizards immune
from the venom anti-coagulant, protecting them from bleeding to
death when attacked by another of their own species.
"When two males are fighting one another," Bruneau said, "it is one
impressive show of force."
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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