If you want to free dive to a depth of 200 feet and hold your breath for 13 minutes. Don’t do it, unless you have a rare gene mutation, states the Miami Herald, describing the “surprise finding” in a new study just published in the journal Cell. Scientists have been studying the Bajau people of southeast Asia and discovered that deep diving is in the DNA of the Sea Nomads.
DNA of the Sea Nomads enables them to Deep Dive Down to 230 feet!
The Bajau people are spread across the islands of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and live permanently on the water, literally in houseboats and they spend as much as 60% of their day underwater collecting crustaceans, sea cucumbers or spearing fish for food.
And amazingly they do this at great depths, down to 230 feet. (photos – Melissa Llardo)
“That is really remarkable, even compared to other professional or traditional divers,” said Melissa Ilardo of the University of Copenhagen. “They are just spending an extraordinarily long time underwater compared to their recovery time.”
“The closest thing to the Bajau in terms of underwater working time are sea otters,” said LLardo, sea otters “are also spending about 60 percent of their time in the water.”
The mutation that makes it possible
Researchers found that a mutation that is common in the Bajau increases the thyroid hormone and that has been linked to larger spleens, at least in lab mice. The spleen, is an organ full of red blood cells and is instrumental in maintaining body functions even under conditions of limited oxygen and the Bajau have very large spleens, as much as 50% larger than average. So, the theory is that the enlarged spleen can pump more blood cells, preventing the human body from becoming oxygen-starved after only minutes underwater.
Prime Example of Human Adaptation
This mutation in the DNA of the Sea Nomads has probably taken hundreds if not thousands of years to evolve and is a prime example of how humans adapt to their environments. As National Geographic point out, the Bajau are the first humans found to be genetically adapted to diving.
Linguistic analysis indicates that the seafaring Bajau lifestyle goes back at least 1000 years and a voyage by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, on his circumnavigation of the globe, recorded siting the Bajau in 1521.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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