Study: Sherpas Inherited Gene Allowing Them To Thrive At High-Altitudes From Ancient and Now Extinct Human Species

220px-SherpaThis may be one of my favorite science stories in years. Researchers have concluded that the “superathlete” gene that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans thrive at high altitudes is actually traced to an ancient species of human, the Denisovans. The gene, EPAS1, regulates the body’s production of hemoglobin, and was acquired from the Denisovans. Of course, the Denisovans went extinct some 40,000 years ago so for those creationists who insist that the Earth is only a few thousand years old . . . you might want to move on to the next story.

51yuNuckdiLThe Denisovans mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians and then disappeared. The researchers focused on a difference between Sherpas and other high-altitude people like Andean highlanders who have adapted to thin air in a way that adds more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin to their blood. However, Tibetans have less hemoglobin in their blood, which avoids some problems like clots and strokes. The reason appears to be the Denisovans. The ancestors of Tibetans and Han Chinese got the gene when they mated with Denisovans. However, many of the descendants did not need the gene and eventually lost the EPAS1. However, it was the Tibetans who settled on the high-altitude Tibetan plateau and therefore favored the genes’ continuation.

Very cool.

Source: Science Mag

50 thoughts on “Study: Sherpas Inherited Gene Allowing Them To Thrive At High-Altitudes From Ancient and Now Extinct Human Species

  1. I was going to continue our discussion until you posited that people with African ancestry have a lower IQ than those with European ancestry. And you make a heck of a leap when you assert that Europeans are more intelligent because some have 1-5% Neanderthal DNA, with absolutely zero evidence to support causality.

    And as for Neanderthals having the vocal range of Cro Magnon, it appears you do not understand the phrase “a study suggests” referenced by your BBC article. A computer model and a study can make very interesting theories, but until those are proven the scientific community treats them as very real possibilities, but no more than. In fact, the article specifically states that nothing has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It just creates new directions for research.

    The question was not whether Neanderthals could make their own tools, or whether they were more advanced than earlier hominids, but how they compared with their competitors Cro Magnon.

    I don’t engage with white supremacists.

  2. Karen S,

    I was going to continue our discussion until you posited that people with African ancestry have a lower IQ than those with European ancestry.


    Cultural conditioning (epigenetic) trumps genetics …

  3. Spinny confuses “cult” with addiction.

    In the video above, in my comment to Karen S at 7:31:

    “… I find that addiction is any behavior that is associated with craving for temporary relief and with long term negative consequences along with an impairment of control over it so that the person wishes to give it up or promises to, but can’t follow through”

    (Dr. Maté). Racism and other hatreds are addictions that are always lurking under the hood.

    Continued vigilance is the only way to deal with them because there is no single generation cure for some of them.

    • Dredd – I am just wondering (and this is based on your continued harping on that faux cultural racism) when you intend to overcome your racist tendencies?

  4. Karen S

    Hybrids can become integrated within a species. I have already explained about coyotes (canis latrans) and wolves interbreeding with fertile offspring, and yet they are still considered different species, not subspecies. In addition, ligers and tigons are crosses between Panthero leo and Panthera tigeris which are fertile. And yet there is no doubt that lions and tigers are different species.

    Correct again.

    But some hybrid science cannot be accepted by certain cultures such as fundamentalists.

    Even those fundies who become scientists.

    On the cutting edge, none of us can accept all hybrid science without an internal struggle.


    “However, the editor with whom I was dealing was clearly uncomfortable that the reviews had been mixed. On the one hand, one review was extremely complimentary, saying that the theory presented in the book was revolutionary and that it resolved many of the issues that have been problematic for Darwinian theory. Here’s a verbatim excerpt from that reviewer’s assessment of my book:

    McCarthy masterfully develops an extended argument for a paradigm shift in evolutionary biology from the traditional view that each new species arises gradually from a single ancestral form, to the novel suggestion that each new life form originates suddenly when its recombinant karyotype becomes genetically stabilized following a hybridization event between two distinct ancestors. This bold hypothesis the stuff of which Kuhnian revolutions potentially emerge is presented with eloquence, extensive scholarship, and verve. Importantly, the hypothesis entails empirically testable genetic mechanisms and evolutionary predictions, and thus may stimulate a sweeping research agenda.”

    On the other hand, there were reviews that raised objections, all of the same ilk — that my claims were inconsistent with one tenet or another of accepted theory. For those who shy away from anything that rocks the establishment’s boat, such objections can never be satisfactorily addressed. And yet, for someone like me, who is trying to critique and improve upon standard theory, they are not even valid. Obviously, a new theory that contradicts an existing theory will be inconsistent with the tenets of that theory!

    (The Germ Theory – of Government – 8).

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