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. “From Ancient and Now Extinct Human Species” – JT

    Better said as “extinct homo ______” species.

    Nevertheless, the human family is very qualified to become extinct.

  2. I an an Eighth Day Adventist. On the 8th Day God Created Dog and put him on Earth to watch over humans. After that God got out of the picture so to speak. Dog is God spelled backwards.

    1. BarkinDog – are you named after the animal that runs around my house and forces me to feed it daily or after the watcher over humans?

  3. seamus wrote “gifts of angles”

    I thought God was infallible. Or maybe we have spelled it wrong all this time.

    “scientific method”.

    Who knew God was British?

    James Knauer wrote “Tell that to Facebook. Tell that to google. Tell that to the NSA.”

    I’d classify the first two as unfettered capitalism and the last as unfettered military-industrial complex.

  4. I have a screwball theory which I rarely discuss but this finding seems to give it some credence. I think that Everest was climbed long before Hillary and Norkay (sp?) did it. I think it was some Sherpas that probably felt they could do it and did. Why wouldn’t they have? Something akin to somebody running a sub-four minute mile before Roger Bannister but on an African plain that went unrecorded. Before you get too excited remember that a screwball theory does not a screwball make.

  5. Hubert Cumberdale,

    ‘Creationist’ should not be capitalized. It is not a specific religion, but a ideological system of belief like fascism or socialism. Adherents to these systems are ‘fascists’ and ‘socialists’ and you are a ‘creationist.’ The rules of grammar are the same for everyone–even for the exceptionally righteous and superior.

    So glad we idiot rationalists could provide entertainment for you there in your fortress of smugitude.

  6. “the Internet is not a scientific experiment. ”

    Tell that to Facebook. Tell that to google. Tell that to the NSA.

    1. James – prove to me that the invention of the Internet was a scientific experiment using the scientific method. 😉

  7. “We Creationists are used to the “scientists” error regarding dating …”

    At least scientists admit error. Indeed, without “error” there could be no science. “Error” is deadly, however, to the quaint and utterly non demonstrable fable known as “creationism”.

    I’m no scientologist, but Seamus/Xenu appears to be onto something.

  8. Hubert Cumberdale, you are correct dear sir. Science is largely hog-wash. The principals of physics, chemistry, and electrical engineering which allow me to post on this god-less heathen blog were the gifts of angles, not the product of learned men and women tinkering with the so-called “scientific method”. Of course when it comes to the existence of divine beings I always suggest consulting lava flow patterns. These so-called “scientists” never calculate for the deviations to the normal flow patterns caused by the natural build up of Thaten and Polynesian virgin cadavers. So have another slice of watermelon and wish your doomed republic a happy birthday puny humans. I’ve let you live another year…perhaps your last. End communication.


    1. seamus – the Internet is not a scientific experiment. It was designed for scientists to communicate between sites.

  9. Twelve Sherpa died this past Spring in a horrible avalanche.

  10. Into Thin Air by John Krakauer is a great book and helps give you a real insight into Sherpa’s.

  11. Much of the hand wringing about unions here is misplaced. However, Sherpa’s need a union.

  12. Well, if Tibet ever hosts the Olympics we know who will win. 🙂

  13. I assume JT covered the news when the story first broke that non-Africans have 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA in them. Neanderthals are where blue eyes and red hair came from. Denisovans were first discovered in a Siberian cave. Every month or so we have another interesting story regarding how races really are different.

    And for those of you who do not follow this stuff, this is just the latest in an ongoing explanation of the origins of the human race. It was not that many years ago that the thinking was that all humans came from Africa. Now it is believed that there were multiple migrations, and when they reached Northern Africa and Southern Europe, they started interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

    Some things are not known, e.g. were Denisovans originally from Asia and then traveled to Europe or was it the reverse? And one final thing: ever wonder why there is so little evidence of ancient humans, besides the fact that bodies return to dust? Glaciation. Glaciers, common in Canada and Europe, would have ground away most traces of early humans.

  14. “…40,000 years ago so for those creationists (sic) who insist that the Earth is only a few thousand years old . . . you might want to move on to the next story.”

    We Creationists are used to the “scientists” error regarding dating so this story still serves as entertainment, even though it is speculation or as we call it SWAG science (Scientific Wild A** Guess) If you factor in the common error ratio – such as the radiometric dating of the Uinkaret lava flow, which varied by – literally – MILLIONS of years even though the site was dated to be only a few thousand years due to an ancient Indian artifact find.

    So…. we’re used to it. Still worth a good laugh though.

  15. If they could only bottle that Denisovan gene that reduces strokes and clots!

  16. Wow. I always wondered how the sherpas could do what they do. Now I know. Fascinating.

  17. The ubiquity of this guy, Gene Epas the First, is extraordinary. Far more so than prosaic Kilroy and Waldo combined. Obviously a time traveler, is it possible he is also a “shape shifter”, too?

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