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Ethiopians and Tibetans thrive in thin air using similar physiology, but different genes
Date:12/7/2012

in the blood.

Same solution, different genes

When they scanned the villagers' DNA, the researchers found a genetic variant associated with low hemoglobin levels in the Amhara.

This variant was located in a different region of the genome than those previously found to be associated with low hemoglobin in Tibetans. In other words, the physiological coping mechanisms shared by Amhara and Tibetans in response to life at high altitude ie., dampened hemoglobin levels are due to different underlying genes.

It is still unclear whether the first settlers of high altitude regions in Ethiopia and Tibet carried different genetic variants with them when they arrived, or whether different mutations occurred in these populations after they got there. But it's clear that each group followed a different evolutionary pathway.

"They have a similar physiologic solution, but that doesn't necessarily amount to a similar genetic solution," Di Rienzo said.

For the Omoro who are relative newcomers to high altitude the researchers also found differences between highlanders and lowlanders in DNA methylation, a chemical process that causes changes in gene activity, but doesn't necessarily alter the genetic code. While the differences aren't linked to hemoglobin levels, the results suggest that such changes may play a role in the early stages of high altitude adaptation, the researchers say.


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Contact: Robin Ann Smith
rsmith@nescent.org
919-668-4544
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Source:Eurekalert

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