Tibetans underwent ”fastest genetic change” in human history to thrive at high altitude

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Tibetans split off from the Han Chinese some 3,000 years ago and since then rapidly developed a unique ability to thrive at high altitudes and low oxygen levels, researchers have ascertained after comparing the genomes of 50 Tibetans and 40 Han Chinese.

The genome-wide comparison, carried out by evolutionary biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered more than 30 genes with DNA mutations that have become more prevalent in Tibetans than Han Chinese, nearly half of which are related to how the body uses oxygen. One mutation in particular spread from fewer than 10 percent of the Han Chinese to nearly 90 percent of all Tibetans.

Rasmus Nielsen, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, who led the statistical analysis, said: “This is the fastest genetic change ever observed in humans. For such a very strong change, a lot of people would have had to die simply due to the fact that they had the wrong version of a gene.”...

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