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Biotech Science

Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human 133

Posted by samzenpus
from the breathing-easy dept.
sciencehabit writes A "superathlete" gene that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe easy at high altitudes was inherited from an ancient species of human. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that the gene variant came from people known as Denisovans, who went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians about 40,000 years ago. This is the first time a version of a gene acquired from interbreeding with another type of human has been shown to help modern humans adapt to their environment.
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Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human

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  • by alzoron (210577) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @12:48AM (#47373983) Journal

    This is the first time a version of a gene acquired from interbreeding with another type of human has been shown to help modern humans adapt to their environment.

    I'd have to say the genes for red hair were pretty damn helpful in making some of our women really attractive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      and crazy nutjobs.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Who is to say some of the Neanderthal genes that have been found in humans are not "helpful"? How are they measuring "helpful adaptation"? Perhaps they mean the high-altitude features are clearly helpful, while the benefits of others are not known yet. (Maybe some of the top football players are the top because of Neanderthal genes.)

      • Re:Helpful Genes (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @04:59AM (#47374551)

        Who is to say some of the Neanderthal genes that have been found in humans are not "helpful"? How are they measuring "helpful adaptation"? Perhaps they mean the high-altitude features are clearly helpful, while the benefits of others are not known yet. (Maybe some of the top football players are the top because of Neanderthal genes.)

        A significant number of those Neanderthal and Denisovan genes are thought to be very helpful. For example Neanderthal genes are thought to play an important part in the way skin works in modern Europeans/Asians/Native Americans/Australians (cold climate tolerance, resistance to some diseases, synthesis of vitamins). However, having strong suspicions that this is the case because a whole bunch of skin related DNA in these populations seems to have come from Neanderthals and Denisovians and suspecting that this DNA is important because Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA seems to have been 'selected out' of some other parts of the genome but is still there in the skin related regions of the genome is one thing. Proving it scientifically is a whole other matter. These guys simply managed to become the first to prove in a scientifically rigorous way the helpfulness of one of the numerous bits of Neanderthal/Denisovan DNA suspected to be beneficial. Now let's hope this stands up to peer review.

      • (Maybe some of the top football players are the top because of Neanderthal genes.)

        The myth of the supermuscular Neandertal is just that - a myth.

        Last time I read anything on the subject (admittedly decades ago), a Neandertal in a modern suit would be almost (the "almost" being the shape and size of the nose, mostly) indistinguishable from a Homo Sapiens....

        • by Tablizer (95088)

          They've found a lot of broken and healed bones in Neanderthal skeletons, compared to Homo Sapiens. The implication is that they were more rugged than Sapiens, probably because they mostly depended on big game hunting.

          • They're both big-game hunters, but had a very different approach to it. Neanderthals had stabbing spears; they basically ran up to their prey and stabbed at it. The problem with this approach is that you have to get very close to the prey. It's hard to get close enough to a horse to kill it with a stabbing spear. It might be easier to get close to a slow-moving animal like a mammoth or wooly rhino, but then you face the problem that if it's in range of you, you're in range of the tusks/horns/feet. It's poss
            • by Tablizer (95088)

              When Homo sapiens show up, they've got an entirely new technology- the atlatl, or spear-thrower.

              I believe these are relatively recent, perhaps after the Neanderthal's time. It's more likely Sapiens went after smaller animals like rabbits, and were scavengers, stealing game from wolves, hyena's, cougars, etc. using relatively weak spears or rocks.

              Going after big game directly was probably not a common option at the time for Sapiens. Neanderthals specialized in big game, and this includes being able to be tra

              • by Reziac (43301) *

                "...humans who take the risk of hunting big game due to arrogance..."

                If you've got a family or a village to feed, and you have a choice, do you spear the elk or the rabbit? That's not arrogance; it's common sense.

      • Who is to say some of the Neanderthal genes that have been found in humans are not "helpful"?

        Take a look at Africa. I'd say they've been helpful.

        • by cusco (717999)

          Sub-Saharan African groups don't have Neanderthal genes, unless they've interbred with non-Africans. Neanderthals were either never in Africa at all, or left it immediately and completely after branching off the rest of the human genetic tree.

    • I'd have to say the genes for red hair were pretty damn helpful in making some of our women really attractive.

      The Scotch must have helped it, too.

    • Yes. Very attractive.

      And, make men too much of a troublemakers ...

    • by slash0r (3734763)

      Not sure natural selection helps. Ugly people still reproduce with each others.

  • Wish I could get laid...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why? Look closely at the men around you who have. You'll see all the bullshit 'compromises' they've had to make in order to get it, and even then, many of them still don't.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wish I could get laid...

      Log out. Its usually one of the more important steps.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by KingOfBLASH (620432)

      Although this sounds like it is meant to be funny and not insightful, were it a serious comment:

      "Getting laid" is a skill like programming, hitting a baseball, playing a musical instrument, or building things. While some people may be born with a natural talent, it is still something you can learn.

      The first step is to get a bit more mature. You are not "getting laid" you are making love and if you come across as desperate for sex and only wanting one thing, you will not get anywhere.

      The second step is to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'd add a "fourth step": understand that different women want different things - that women will typically decide whether to wear their good underwear (i.e. brand new Victoria's Secret lace versus worn out cotton granny panties) before they even go on the date with you - that they''ve already decided the "outcome" of the date before they've even spent time with you.

        Some women, because of who they are, want a long hard night in the bedroom and as long as you come across as reasonably nice and not totally psy

        • Hehe. I think the "alpha" thing is and isn't a myth. You're right there's a certain type of woman that appeals to and some it doesn't.

          But at the same time, a lot of it is conditioning. All their lives, women are taught they are sluts if they initiate. So they will go up right next to you in the bar, flash their eyelashes, and hope you start.

          So if you are interested in getting with women, you do have to man up and learn to be the one who comes over and starts the conversation. Doesn't have to be fancy,

          • by Mashiki (184564)

            Hehe. I think the "alpha" thing is and isn't a myth. You're right there's a certain type of woman that appeals to and some it doesn't.

            Pretty much true, being an asshole and unavailable though does seem to increase one's chances.

  • Could this be used to determine whether certain people are invasive? And they should leave on moral grounds. Or that they will face misery because of a gene they don't possess?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    came from people known as Denisovans, who went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians

    Well no wonder they died, there isn't enough oxygen at those higher altitudes to sustain banging.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @01:06AM (#47374035)

    The explanation of the evolution is terrible. If the gene was inherited from a "Denisovans" then that Denisovan didn't go extinct. His descendents are still among us. The gene did not spread through the population; the people who had the gene survived and people without the gene disappeared leaving more space for those survivors.

    • by dmbasso (1052166)

      The explanation of the evolution is terrible. If the gene was inherited from a "Denisovans" then that Denisovan didn't go extinct. His descendents are still among us. The gene did not spread through the population; the people who had the gene survived and people without the gene disappeared leaving more space for those survivors.

      Yes, the "people with the gene" were called Denisovans, they "disappeared", therefore they did go extinct. It seems you don't follow the logic of your own statements.

      And just to make it even more clear: suppose I make dog with the tomato gene for photosynthesis (a solar powered dog, how cool is that), then kill every single tomato plant in the world with some Monsanto shit. It doesn't matter that my glorious green power efficient dog would carry the tomato gene... tomatos would still have gone extinct.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You get this completely wrong,

        OP is saying, correctly, it was not another species. The reasoning is simple: If two living things interbreed and have an offspring that is capable of producing viable young the the first two creatures are the same species.

        In your false argument splicing a gene is what happened, apparently you think a magic man in the sky found one species frollicking among the clouds, squished them up and took their cloud-dancing-ness and schmeared it into some random people. The two arguments

        • by dmbasso (1052166)

          I haven't said Denisovans were a different species... you are aware that the word "extinction" is not limited to species right? If all Caucasians | Africans | Mongolians died, their population would be extinct. Their genes would still survive in other humans, and that doesn't make any difference to the fact they would be extinct.

          And how the fuck did you read religious connotations in my post? I'm an atheist.

          • And how the fuck did you read religious connotations in my post? I'm an atheist.

            Because you said that thousands of years ago specific genes were transplanted from one group of people into another group of people. That first group then went extinct, leaving only those spliced genes as evidence.

            Since we didn't have genetic splicing until a few years ago, the two choices left as possible genetic engineers are aliens and God. Take your pick.

            • by dmbasso (1052166)

              Because you said that thousands of years ago specific genes were transplanted

              No, I didn't say that. The example I gave was only to elucidate that a single gene (or even a bunch of them) doesn't define a population. I read my post again and the message still seems clear. But ok, I'll make it fucking transparent: suppose I write a book and copy an entire paragraph of Shakespeare's Hamlet, then proceed to burn every single copy of the aforementioned play. It doesn't matter that a paragraph continues to exist in another book, Hamlet went extinct.

            • by cusco (717999)

              Horsepuckey. Transposons (sp?) are chunks of DNA that get moved around between species by viruses and plasmids. It's actually quite common. We have many chunks of non-human and in fact non-primate genetic material in our DNA that was imported over the eons. I don't know how much of it is expressed as active genes and how much is just 'junk' DNA, I haven't read up on it for several years, but it's there.

              • You're right. I didn't think of that one, mainly because it seems quite coincidental that the one gene that got moved is the one that was needed by one particular group to live in the area they are living.

                That was either the luckiest gene transplanting ever, or the smartest virus the world has ever seen.

                Alternatively, it could be that the ancestors of the Sherpa people had sex with the other group. If so, and the other group has living descendants in the Sherpa people, are they really extinct? That is what

                • by cusco (717999)

                  You just implied that the only non-sexual method of gene migration was artificial, which isn't the case. Among some genera transplanted genes cause evolution to advance much faster than typical mutation rates would.
                  And yes, the Denesovians are extinct, whether they are a modern human subspecies or an entirely separate humanoid species (the answer to that will depend on which definition of 'species' you use). The African Hairless Dog and the Siamese Hairless Dog both survived into the late 19th century,

    • by tsa (15680)

      One gene does not make a species.

    • By your logic then this morning what I saw rummaging through my garbage was a black dinosaur. However it wasn't nearly as scary as those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. For starters it's roar sounded more like a "caw caw", and it was afraid of a broom....
    • I find the idea that Sherpas have a gene that helps them breathe at high altitude a little hard to accept. How long have the sherpas been up there carrying shit for rich European thrill seekers? Sure, they adapted to their environment... but couldn't this be a non-genetic adaptation? Have you seen how fast high-school and college swimmers can swim? Where does their fast swimming gene come from? Fish? Did high school and college students interbreed with fish a whole bunch of semesters ago?
      • by dave420 (699308)
        You seriously think they haven't thought of that? Why do you think yourself so intelligent and scientists so stupid? Is it mere arrogance?
      • How long have the sherpas been up there carrying shit for rich European thrill seekers?

        Atmospheric pressure, and hence oxygen content, at the height Tibetans have lived naturally for thousands of years is a bit over half that of sea-level. This story has nothing to do with climbing Everest.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        How long have the sherpas been up there carrying shit for rich European thrill seekers?

        The Sherpas have been carrying shit for rich European thrill seekers since the early 1930s - say 3 generations. For the preceding 30-odd generations (and maybe considerably more) they've been living in the same regions carrying loads of fabrics and foodstuffs over the Himalayan ranges from the plains of India into Tibet during the early summer (after the winter snows melted), and then returning to the plains of India with

  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @01:12AM (#47374055) Journal

    There is another obvious point in history where such a gene transfer could have occurred. European conditions favour light skin, and Neandertals had been hanging out there for some tens of thousands of years before modern humans turned up and so had evolved light skin. These newcomers, having recent ancestry in Africa, were probably dark skinned. Interbreeding could easily have introduced the beneficial-to-European-conditions light skin mutations into the modern population.

    My memory of the literature (which I have followed just a little bit, not closely) is that this did not happen - genetic analysis shows that modern Europeans and Neandertals acquired light skin through different mutations. However, Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] says this is still under debate.

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      Interbreeding...My memory of the literature (which I have followed just a little bit, not closely) is that this did not happen

      That used to be the accepted position because genetic lineage studies used to be done exclusively with Mitochondrial DNA [wikipedia.org] which is passed down only through the female line. What that showed was no interbreeding. In other words no female Neaderthal had any progeny in the gene pool for modern humans. The assumption always was that the mating patterns of males and females was enough alike that this alone is decisive.

      However, we now have the capability to check Nuclear DNA [wikipedia.org], which comes from both parents. This s

  • After all, if a story about interbreeding, genetics and extinction of humans appears on Slashdot, then it has to be true......
  • inherited from an ancient species of human

    One of the definitions of "species" states, that if two can breed and produce viable offspring (unlike, say, donkey and horse or lion and tiger, which produce sterile hybrids), then they are the same species...

    Why are Denisovans considered different species, rather than simply a different race (or breed?) of the same Homo Sapiens?

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Perhaps the viability rate of the offspring of cross-breeds is low. "Viability" is not necessarily a Boolean value. As two groups drift apart genetically, the success rate of mating gradually goes down. I'm not sure the definition requires 0.00000...% viability. But, most biologists don't get pedantic of over such and accept fuzzy boundaries of many concepts (until somebody sues over paternity or something).

      • Well, I really think it should be race, even writing about different species might be dangerous. That could be really intresting but topic is a tabu.

        The only safe route is to wrote that all people all almost same. In fact it would be intresting if people from really different race has problems get babies. But I fear event that is a bit dangerous subject. Only thing that I know for sure it that living as really diffent people is hard, that might have some effect.

        • Yes, let's censor science because somebody might get offended.
          • Ironic, since you can't censor religion, despite explicitly intending to be violently offensive in many parts and smugly bigoted in most (of the surviving popular ones, natch).
    • by Anonymous Coward

      inherited from an ancient species of human

      One of the definitions of "species" states, that if two can breed and produce viable offspring (unlike, say, donkey and horse or lion and tiger, which produce sterile hybrids), then they are the same species...

      Why are Denisovans considered different species, rather than simply a different race (or breed?) of the same Homo Sapiens?

      I have to admit that I am no zoologist. All the info I have I got from online sources

      Some time ago I did some digging on the horse + donkey / lion+tiger interbreeding thing, while most of the offspring are sterile, there were some cases that the resulted offspring that were not sterile !

      I guess that could be happening to the sapien + denisovan interbreeding program as well - with most offsprings sterile, but those which were not, went ahead and produce _their_ own offspring

    • Except that it is not.

      A lot of different species can interbreed, and a lot of animals in the same species cannot.

      There are a huge varieties of dog breeds, many cannot viably mate unless through intermediate dog breeds.
      Loads of birds rely of feather patterns to keep them uninterested why being perfect genetic matches for interbreeding.
      The preponderance of evidence suggests that humans could interbreed with other great apes. We have done it in the past, hundreds of thousands of years ago, and some scien
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        There are a huge varieties of dog breeds, many cannot viably mate unless through intermediate dog breeds.

        Clearly you've never seen a chihuahua humping everything in sight. Sure, the male has to be smaller, but it only takes one spermatozoa.

      • by mackai (1849630)
        From the article:

        Either way, what is most interesting, Nielsen says, is that the results show that mating with other groups was an important source of beneficial genes in human evolution. “Modern humans didn’t wait for new mutations to adapt to a new environment,” he says. “They could pick up adaptive traits by interbreeding.”

        I have a bit of issue with the notion of the source as "important". Useful perhaps. Maybe even "potentially important". The thing is that we don't know whether the alleged interbreeding produced many other variations that were undesirable - with high mortality rates so that they failed to survive multiple generations. It could even be that most of the offspring were still-born or sterile. That doesn't take away from it being an interesting conjecture to explain an unusual variation.

        • Well in general it is normally the opposite. Inner breeding between genetically similar individual produces genetically unstable offspring, making mongrels with some very different genes produces the more stable offspring.
      • by cthulhu11 (842924)
        Heck, in snakes hybrids across *genera* are known. What's really the difference between a population, a subspecies, a species, sometimes even a genus? I suspect that taxons are often enough more about someone publishing a paper than science.
    • by Rinikusu (28164)

      That's an outdated definition. Species is flexible in that regards.

      Species A can breed with Species B and Species B can breed with Species C but species A can't breed with Species C. (and by breed, I mean produce fertile offspring). Rut Roh.

      Remember that species is also a convenient moniker for what something is/was at a particular moment in time. Given enough time and isolation, perhaps our different human races could diverge enough to have similar issues with breeding. For Denisovans, they remained i

    • by radtea (464814)

      Why are Denisovans considered different species, rather than simply a different race (or breed?) of the same Homo Sapiens?

      "Variety" is probably a better word than "race" or "species". The "biological species concept" is extremely poorly defined, which is a bit of an embarrassment for a field largely based on a book called "The Origin of Species".

      Like all concepts, the boundaries of a "species" are fuzzy, and the only really precise dividing line is the attention of the knowing subject. In many cases this is unprobelmatic: almost any knowing subject looking at the same population would draw the edges between species in the same

  • If they bred with humans, technically they didn't go extinct: their genes live on, at least some of them. "Extinct" is perhaps not a Boolean value.

  • "Modern humans didn't wait for new mutations to adapt to a new environment," he says. "They could pick up adaptive traits by interbreeding."

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