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Evo in the News

Evolving altitude aptitude

If you live in the lowlands, you may have experienced the huffing and puffing that typically accompany a trip to higher altitudes. That’s because oxygen levels go down as one goes up. Travelling to Denver from sea level means a 17% decrease in available oxygen. Our bodies compensate for even this small change with faster breathing and a higher heart rate — at least until we acclimate to the thinner atmosphere. And a loftier vacation spot (for example, La Paz, Bolivia at 11,942 feet) could bring on serious altitude sickness with insomnia, nausea, and swelling — but not for everyone. Tibetan highlanders have no trouble living at 13,000 feet year in year out, and many Nepalese Sherpas (who are ethnically Tibetan) climb parts of Mount Everest without the supplementary oxygen most people require. How do they do it? New research makes it clear that Tibetan highlanders haven’t just acclimated to their mountain home; they’ve evolved unique physiological mechanisms for dealing with low oxygen levels.

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