Why Don’t Camels Have Diabetes or High Blood Pressure?

By Breanna Draxler | November 14, 2012 1:57 pm

bactrian camels

Camels are known for their humps, which store fat and allow camels to survive long periods of time without food or water. But camels have also developed other traits like insulin resistance and salt tolerance to help them feel more at home in extreme environments. Scientists are now working to determine what these adaptations look like on the genetic level, and they hope their results, published in Nature Communications this week, may eventually shed some light on metabolism-related diseases in humans, too.

The dwindling global population of wild bactrian camels, which now number between 730 and 880 individuals, resides in the Gobi desert of northwestern China and southwestern Mongolia. The domestic relatives of this critically endangered species have long been used as a reliable form of transportation in the region.

In order to deal with the dramatic swings in temperature in desert environments, bactrian camels have developed some unique adaptations. Bactrian camels have blood sugar levels twice as high as other cud-chewing creatures, and their daily salt intake is eight times greater than that of a typical cow or sheep. The really impressive part is that the camels don’t develop high blood pressure or diabetes in the process.

These adaptations have been studied for decades, but what made this particular study unique was that researchers were looking at the adaptations on a genetic rather than physiological level. Researchers mapped the genomes of both wild and domestic bactrian camels, and analyzed the divergence of the two genomes over time. According to their results, many of the camels’ genetic adaptations have occurred rapidly, as far as evolutionary adaptations go.

The researchers also identified the genes and pathways associated with the camel’s unique ability to store and produce energy, the first step to better understanding the genetic mechanisms that have allowed the camels to thrive in the desert. By studying the genetic pathways that allow camels to avoid metabolism-related diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, the researchers hope their findings will also provide some cross0ver into the realm of human medicine by improving their genetic understanding of these conditions in people.

Camel image via Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • http://yahoo.com naveed tajammal

    The two humped,known as Bactarian,the old north of geographic entity of Khurassan,has its origin in our seven ridges of sulaiman ranges,revert it back,in it old abode,it will flourish better.

  • http://pjensenmd.com Peter Jensen

    Obesity, insulin resistance, adaptation to salt consumption probably had survival advantages in humans particularly before the days of grocery stores and readily available food and water. Genes for diabetes, insulin resistance, and hypertension had to have survival advantages likely similar to the advantages in bactrian camels as these genes are so prevalent in human populations.

  • http://www.thegodreality.com John Heininger

    “According to their results, many of the camels’ genetic adaptations have occurred rapidly, as far as evolutionary adaptations go.” Looks to me like the the capability to rapidly adapt was already an inherent within the camel genetics capabilities, as is the case with most forms of life, rather than acquired by evolution.

  • http://teleprestexan.blogspot.com/ Stephen Daugherty

    John, you assume a system with next to no history. Unfortunately for you, that’s a viewpoint that has very little explanatory power, and so evolution will continue to work better for most.

    My feeling on current dietary issues is this: for much of human history, most people got regular exercise, ate animals whose meat was lean, and ate fresh fruits and vegetables. Only relatively recent advances like agriculture, food processing, and the modern sedentary lifestyle has put the weakness of our genetic code to the test.

    If we were to continue this behavior for thousands of years to come, we would become better adapted to sitting on our butts eating junk food.

  • http://thailandrocks.com chiangraiken

    Methinks much of the drive for such research is to find ways to enable couch potato and fast-foodist humans to avoid high blood pressure and diabetes. Perhaps some newfangled pills will come of this research. That might be good, but two of the best ways to stay healthy are ‘eat right’ and ‘get plenty of exercise.’ It doesn’t hurt to keep the mind limber, also. Pills are a crutch.

  • geack

    @3. John,
    That statement is just saying that these adaptations occurred rapidly compared to the huge number of other evolutionary adaptations that have been studied. How do you account for all the other data the camel are being compared against? Obviously, the capability was inherent in the camels. The question is, how did the camels get it, and why do they differ from other animals in these specific ways? For some reason I doubt you’re actually interested in the answers – you seem to believe you have an answer already.

  • Soner

    Wow…merely suggesting evolution didn’t play a role is obviously violating some unwritten code here.


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