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Ethiopian highlanders have different gene that allow them to live in thin air

Tigrai Online Dec. 09, 2012

Ethiopian Simien mountain shepherd
Researchers claim to have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live and work more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness

Researchers claim to have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live and work more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness.

According to the researchers, the specific genes differ from those reported previously for high-altitude Tibetans, even though both groups cope with low-oxygen in similar physiological ways

If confirmed, the results may help scientists understand why some people are more vulnerable to low blood oxygen levels caused by factors other than altitude — such as asthma, sleep apnea, heart problems or anemia — and point to new ways to treat them, the researchers say.

The researchers wanted to pinpoint the genetic changes that enable Ethiopians to thrive in thin air, and to see if the same genes play a role for Ethiopians as found in recent studies for Tibetans.

Research by Beall and colleagues in the early 2000s revealed that Oromo cope with thin air in much the same way that lowlanders visiting high altitude do — by making more haemoglobin.

In contrast, Amhara highlanders — whose ancestors have inhabited mountainous regions for thousands of years longer than the Omoro — are able to maintain blood haemoglobin levels that are roughly 10 percent lower than Omoro living at the same altitude.


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