Principles of Biology
“Humans and chimpanzees split around five million years ago. Ever since then, we (and they) have changed a bit to adapt to the different environments we invaded and created” (Gitig 2009). Organisms need to adapt both physiologically and anatomically in order to survive in changing environments. For example, Tibetans have developed genes to help them adapt to life at high elevation. While most humans would become very ill at such high altitudes in south-central Asia, the Tibetan highland people thrive in this climate. Researchers have concluded that, “through thousands of years of natural selection, those hardy inhabitants evolved 10 unique oxygen-processing genes that help them live in higher climes” (Science Daily 2010). In a recent study, researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine and Qinghai University Medical School in the People's Republic of China report that thousands of years ago, Tibetan highlanders began to genetically adapt to prevent polycythemia, as well as other health abnormalities such as swelling of the lungs and brain and hypertension of the lung vessels leading to eventual respiratory failure (Science Daily 2010). Even at elevations greater than 14,000 feet above sea level, Tibetans do not over produce red blood cells thus, allowing them to be immune to severe illness due to such climate. The Utah and Chinese researchers found that, “this might be related to at least 10 genes, two of which are specific genes strongly associated with hemoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen in the blood” (SD 2010).
Adaptations at high elevations have happened before in humans, such as those living in the Andes Mountains or Ethiopian regions of Africa. However, the Tibetan people have developed a gene to eliminate their reaction to such great climates that others have not. “For the first time, we have genes that help explain that adaptation” (SD 2010).