Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1    May 2011

Tibetans Evolved at Fastest Pace Ever Measured
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Condensed by Native Village


DNA Model

Tibet: Tibetans from the Himalayan mountains have evolved at the fastest rate ever measured in humans. Chinese and U.S. researchers compared DNA from Han Chinese and the closely related Tibetans, who live 3 miles above them.

DNA suggests the two ethnic groups split around 2,750 years ago. The Tibetans also created more than 30 new forms of genes during those 100 generations. Most of those gene mutations were related to how Tibetans' bodies processed oxygen.

Most genes had not mutated in the Han Chinese.

The air in the Tibetan highlands contains 40% less oxygen than air at sea level. These low levels would cause most people to tire quickly, suffer headaches, and face increased infant mortality rates.  But the Tibetans have genetically adapted.

The mutation of one gene in particular -- EPAS1 -- may be a major reason Tibetans can live where they do. EPAS1 is also known as the "super athlete gene." It's related to red blood cell production, although researchers arenít sure how it works.

"It's really a great study and a solid analysis,"  said geneticist Jay F. Stolztolz from the University of Nebraska. "It shows one of the most rapid adaptive genetic changes we've ever seen in human evolution -- a striking and dramatic change."

Northern Europeans previously held the record for fastest evolution.

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