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The rumen is the hallmark organ of ruminants and hosts a diverse ecosystem of microorganisms that facilitates efficient digestion of plant fibers. We used 897 transcriptomes from three Cetartiodactyla lineages: ruminants, camels and cetaceans, as well as data from ruminant comparative genomics and functional assays to explore the genetic basis of rumen origin and evolution. Comparative analyses reveal that the rumen and the first-chamber stomachs of camels and cetaceans shared a common tissue origin from the esophagus. The rumen recruited genes from other tissues/organs and up-regulated many esophagus genes to aquire functional innovations involving epithelium absorption, improvement of the ketone body metabolism and regulation of microbial community. These innovations involve such genetic changes as ruminant-specific conserved elements, newly evolved genes and positively selected genes. Our in vitro experiements validate the functions of one enhancer, one positively selected gene and two newly evolved antibacterial genes. Our study provides novel insights into the origin and evolution of a complex organ.

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