Ancient Andeans Had Novel Genetic Advantages to Adapt to Altitude
Genes related to starch digestion, heart health, and immunity may have helped ancient Andean populations survive at high altitudes, researchers reported Wednesday (October 17) at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in San Diego.
Previous work has shown that populations in Tibet, for instance, have specific gene variants that help them metabolize oxygen and also safeguard them against vitamin D deficiency. Studies of Ethiopians also show genetic adaptations to survive hypoxic, or low-oxygen, levels at high altitudes. “In the Andes, we don’t see anything like that,” says John Lindo, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, referring to prior investigations of Andean genetic characteristics. “People are really curious as to how they adapted to high altitude if we can’t find this genetic component.” Dr. Lindo is also a faculty member in the GMB and PBEE programs.