Tibetans live high life thanks to extinct human relatives

Modern people’s DNA adaptation to altitude passed down from ancient Denisovans

1:43pm, July 2, 2014

THE HIGH LIFE  The Tibetan plateau, shown outside the town of Aba, is high, cold and has little oxygen. Scientists now say a genetic variant that helped Tibetans adapt to life on the high-altitude steppe came from extinct people known as Denisovans.

Tibetans inherited a genetic adaptation to high altitudes from an extinct group of human relatives called Denisovans, a new study finds.

Researchers have known for years that Tibetans carry a genetic variant in the EPAS1 gene that allows them to survive at extreme altitudes where oxygen is scarce. But how that variant arose has been mysterious. Now researchers report July 2 in Nature that the high-altitude version of EPAS1 almost certainly came from Denisovans or from a related group of extinct humans.

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