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Life in Deserts: The Genetic Basis of Mammalian Desert Adaptation

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Deserts are among the harshest environments on Earth. The multiple ages of different deserts and their global distribution provide a unique opportunity to study repeated adaptation at different timescales. Here, we summarize recent genomic research on the genetic mechanisms underlying desert adaptations in mammals. Several studies on different desert mammals show large overlap in functional classes of genes and pathways, consistent with the complexity and variety of phenotypes associated with desert adaptation to water and food scarcity and extreme temperatures. However, studies of desert adaptation are also challenged by a lack of accurate genotype-phenotype-environment maps. We encourage development of systems that facilitate functional analyses, but also acknowledge the need for more studies on a wider variety of desert mammals.

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