Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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1-Jul-2010

Contact: Science Press Package
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Genes help Tibetans breathe easy on the 'roof of the world'



Zhumulangma peak climber.
Image courtesy of Jing Wang

The area of the Himalayas that includes Tibet and Mount Everest is the highest region of the world. It's so high that the air contains less oxygen than it does at sea level, and when lowlanders travel there, they often run into trouble because their bodies are starving for more oxygen.

Tibetans and other peoples that have lived in this region for many generations don't have this problem. Two teams of scientists wanted to know why, so they took some DNA from Tibetan volunteers and compared it to DNA from other groups of people who live at lower altitudes.

The researchers found a handful of genetic variations that occur more frequently in the Tibetans than in the other groups. Several of these genes are involved in the production of a protein called hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood.

These genes have probably evolved in the Tibetan population in a way that has helped them to adapt to high altitudes, the researchers concluded.

The two studies appear in the 2 July print issue of the journal Science. One of the two studies was published online, at the Science Express website, on 13 May.

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