Tibetans 'Fastest-Evolving People on Earth'

Mutations allow Tibetans to thrive at high altitude
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2010 5:19 AM CDT
Updated Jul 4, 2010 10:01 AM CDT
Tibetan monks stand behind a Buddhist woman as she prays at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet.   (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

(Newser) – The Tibetan people have evolved to suit their high-altitude home with astonishing speed, say researchers. Biologists who compared the genomes of Tibetans living in villages up to 3 miles above sea level with Han Chinese found that 30 genes had undergone adaptive mutations in the 3,000 years since lowland Chinese first settled what is now Tibet, the New York Times reports.

One gene found in almost 90% of Tibetans affects the production of red blood cells, allowing them to thrive in high-altitude, low-oxygen environments without the mountain sickness and lowered fertility that affects lowlanders. The changes are the fastest-known example of human evolution, the researchers say, although some archeologists argue that the Tibetan-Chinese split happened much earlier than 3,000 years ago.

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