This is amazing.
A former post doctoral candidate from the University of Copenhagen's Centre for GeoGenetics has discovered that a group of aquatic nomads from Indonesia have adapted, on a genetic level, to staying underwater far longer than the average human being.
How frigging cool is that?
Melissa Ilardo, whose work on the subject propelled her to her achieve her doctorate, spent months in Jaya Bakti, Indonesia, studying the region's Bajau people. The Bajau are a nomadic people with a lifestyle that revolves around the ocean. Prolific spearfishers, they spend about 60 percent of their day on freediving for fish at depths of up to 230 feet, for up to THIRTEEN MINUTES AT A TIME. That's close to a quarter of an hour under the water with nothing more than their fishing gear and some weights to keep them submerged.
Dr. Ilardo became fascinated by the Bajau's superhuman aquatic abilities and got to wondering how they were able to stay submerged, with no oxygen, for so much longer than an average person can. Using ultrasound and sampling genetic material from members of the Bajau people, Dr. Ilardo discovered those who participated in her study had spleens that were 50% larger than those seen in other individuals who don't share the Bajau's waterborne lifestyle from the same area of Indonesia.
Spleens are important in diving — and are also enlarged in some seals — because they release more oxygen into the blood when the body is under stress, or a person is holding their breath underwater.
Spleens were larger in the Balau people whether they were regular divers or not, and further analysis of their DNA revealed why.
Comparing the genomes of the Bajau to two different populations, the Saluan and the Han Chinese, scientists found 25 sites that differed significantly.
Among them was one site on a gene known as PDE10A, which was determined to be linked to the Bajau's larger spleen size.
It's hoped that Dr. Ilardo's study will help pave the way to a better understanding of how the human body copes with the loss of oxygen, in various scenarios.