Developmental shifts in stage-specific gene expression can provide a ready mechanism of phenotypic change by altering the rate or timing of ontogenetic events. We found that the high-altitude Tibetan antelope (Panthelops hodgsonii) has evolved an adaptive increase in blood-O2 affinity by truncating the ancestral ontogeny of globin gene expression such that a high-affinity juvenile hemoglobin isoform (isoHb) completely supplants the lower-affinity isoHb that is expressed in the adult red blood cells of other bovids. This juvenilization of blood properties represents a canalization of an acclimatization response to hypoxia that has been well documented in adult goats and sheep. We also found the genomic mechanism underlying this regulatory isoHb switch, revealing how a reversible acclimatization response became genetically assimilated as an irreversible adaptation to chronic hypoxia.
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