The "ship of the desert"

A domestic dromedary, Camelus dromedarius, in south-eastern Morocco

A domestic dromedary, Camelus dromedarius, in south-eastern Morocco Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Academics at the University of Bristol will investigate how the one-humped Arabian camel can thrive in the hot and dry environment of the desert, where water is scarce, thanks to a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. Working with scientists in North Africa and the Middle East they hope to better understand how animals can adapt to deserts and climate change.

In order to survive in the desert, the camel needs to conserve water. One of the ways that this is achieved is through a molecular dialogue between the brain and the kidney. The brain makes a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). If the camel cannot find water, its blood becomes more concentrated. This change is detected by the brain, which responds by releasing ADH into the blood stream. After a long journey, ADH tells the kidney to save water by producing a low volume of highly concentrated urine.

Working with collaborators in Algeria and Malaysia, the research team at Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences (THS) has recently sequenced all of the genes (the "genome") of an Algerian camel. Based on this unique resource, and using samples from colleagues in the United Arab Emirates, researchers will now ask how global gene expression changes in the camel brain and kidney in response to chronic dehydration. The team will use highly efficient and cost-effective state-of-the-art methods that enable the researchers to analyse the expression of all camel genes at the same time.

The datasets obtained will be analysed using unbiased mathematical methods to identify nodal genes that are central hubs in regulatory gene networks, and that are thought to be key to the survival of the animal.

David Murphy , Professor of Experimental Medicine at Bristol Medical School: THS and who is leading the research, said: "We are in a unique position to examine the specific molecular functions of these genes as we have developed methods that allow us to manipulate their activity within model organisms. We can ask how altering the activity of a specific gene affects the physiology of the organism in terms of its response to dehydrating cues.

"It is a great privilege to be able to work on this project with fellow scientists in North Africa and the Middle East. Together, we hope to better understand how animals are able to adapt to desertification and climate change."

The three-year research project ’How does the one-humped Arabian camel survive in the desert without drinking?’ is funded by the Leverhulme Trust , and will begin in early 2018.