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Imagine That! -- "Tibetan Infants"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Tibetan Infants"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Everyone knows a mom will do anything for her children. Some moms in Tibet may be passing on a life-saving gene!

Imagine that!

(SOUND: wind)

Cynthia Beall and her team from Case Western Reserve University recently found a genetic trait in some Tibetan women that helps their infants have better chances of surviving their first year at extreme altitudes. Using a non-invasive method of sampling over nine hundred mothers and their children who live in high altitudes, the team was able to determine the percent of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in the blood.

(SOUND: babies crying)

The scientists then looked at patterns of similarity among relatives of the Tibetan moms, to see if the trait was genetic. The pattern indicated having one or two copies of a gene results in having more oxygen in the blood. Not every mother has it, but findings indicate this may be a type of genetic adaptation to living in such high altitudes. Babies who receive this gene from their moms are five times more likely to live to age one than children who don't.

This is an incredible example of people adapting to life in an extreme environment, as the genetic makeup of this Tibetan population is essentially molding itself to the high altitudes and to the qualities necessary for survival there.

So, take a deep breath. Looks like these moms have the situation under control. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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