A Gene Picked from Ancient Denisovans Helps Modern Tibetans Survive at High Altitudes
A new study has revealed that modern Tibetans are able to survive in harsh atmosphere of high altitudes because of a gene they share with their ancestors who established sexual relations with a species of humans. The study has shown for the first time that a gene from another human species helped modern humans to get acclimatized to their environment.
After Tibetans moved towards high-altitude plateau several thousand years ago, they began to have an unusual variant of a gene that regulated the body's production of hemoglobin - the molecule responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood.
Researchers from University of California said this variant, called EPAS1, plays a key role in helping Tibetans to survive at high altitudes despite low levels of oxygen. The altitude was as high as 15,000 feet or more and most people without that variant of gene develop thick blood at such heights. As a result, they experience cardiovascular problems.
"We have very clear evidence that this version of the gene came from Denisovans, a mysterious human relative that went extinct 40,000-50,000 years ago, around the same time as the more well-known Neanderthals, under pressure from modern humans", said Rasmus Nielsen, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley.
It was discovered that EPAS1 came from Denisovans, a mysterious human relative that went extinct 40,000-50,000 years ago because of modern humans, said UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology Rasmus Nielsen. It was the same time when well-known Neanderthals reached extinction.
The researchers compared blood samples from 40 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese with 1,000 other individuals representing 26 human populations in the Human Genome Diversity Panel. They found that 90% of Tibetans had the high-altitude gene similar to the one found in previously discovered 41,000-year-old Denisovan finger bone and two teeth.
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