Tibet isn’t the most hospitable place to live. Thin air and cold weather makes it a struggle for most people. But, Tibetans aren’t most people. Not only do they live in these conditions, but they thrive in it.
Scientists have long known that genes played a key role in helping people live in the thin air. Today, we get a bit more information on what kind of genes. First a bit of background on this gene we are talking about.
The particular gene is called EPAS-1. Basically, it’s a gene that activates a response to thin air. Most people’s response to thin air is creating extra red cells that make blood sticker and easier to clot. This doesn’t happen in Tibetans. They are acclimated to the higher altitude without the higher red blood cell count. Why? They have a particular version of EPAS-1 in their chromosomes.
This is where it gets interesting. Scientists say this particular version of the gene is found in DNA from Denisovans.
Denisovans are a human relative closer to Neanderthals than modern people. Not much is known about them and their discovery only happened in 2010 after an analysis of DNA from a bone in Russia. The bone was thought to have been Neanderthal or modern human. Turns out, it was neither. It was a Denisovan. Since then, small percentages of Denisovan DNA has been found in various groups of people in Asia.
The gene found in Tibetans is not present in significant numbers in any other population today according to an article released in the journal Nature. There have been spot cases of the gene present in Han Chinese and Mongolians. Outside of eastern parts of Asia, researches have not found any trace of the gene.