The hHFE gene of browsing and grazing rhinoceroses: a possible site of adaptation to a low-iron diet

Blood Cells Mol Dis. 2001 Jan-Feb;27(1):342-50. doi: 10.1006/bcmd.2001.0386.


When rhinoceros species that are browsers in the wild are fed in captivity they become iron overloaded. Presumably, their iron-absorptive mechanisms have evolved to become highly efficient. In humans, mutations of the HFE gene cause increased iron absorption. To determine whether the HFE gene of rhinoceroses has undergone mutation as an adaptive mechanism to improve iron absorption from iron-poor diets, we have sequenced the entire coding region of the HFE genes of four species of rhinoceros. Two of these were browsing species and two were grazing species. Although the HFE gene has been well preserved across species, numerous nucleotide differences were found between rhinoceros and human or mouse, some of which changed deduced amino acids. Of these mutations, only one found in the black rhinoceros appears to be a viable candidate mutation that might adversely affect HFE function. This mutation, S88T, is in a highly conserved region that is involved in the interaction between transferrin receptor and HFE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • HLA Antigens / genetics*
  • Hemochromatosis Protein
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Iron Overload / genetics
  • Iron Overload / veterinary
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Iron, Dietary / blood
  • Membrane Proteins*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Perissodactyla / blood*
  • Perissodactyla / genetics*
  • Point Mutation
  • Sequence Alignment


  • HFE protein, human
  • HLA Antigens
  • Hemochromatosis Protein
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Membrane Proteins