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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Sep 28;101(39):14300-4. Epub 2004 Sep 7.

Higher offspring survival among Tibetan women with high oxygen saturation genotypes residing at 4,000 m.

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Department of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University, 238 Mather Memorial Building, 11220 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


Here we test the hypothesis that high-altitude native resident Tibetan women with genotypes for high oxygen saturation of hemoglobin, and thus less physiological hypoxic stress, have higher Darwinian fitness than women with low oxygen saturation genotypes. Oxygen saturation and genealogical data were collected from residents of 905 households in 14 villages at altitudes of 3,800-4,200 m in the Tibet Autonomous Region along with fertility histories from 1,749 women. Segregation analysis confirmed a major gene locus with an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance for high oxygen saturation levels, associated with a 10% higher mean. Oxygen saturation genotypic probability estimators were then used to calculate the effect of the inferred oxygen saturation locus on measures of fertility, in a subsample of 691 women (20-59 years of age and still married to their first husbands, those with the highest exposure to the risk of pregnancy). The genotypic probability estimators were not significantly associated with the number of pregnancies or live births. The high oxygen saturation genotypic mean offspring mortality was significantly lower, at 0.48 deaths compared with 2.53 for the low oxygen saturation homozygote, because of lower infant mortality. Tibetan women with a high likelihood of possessing one to two alleles for high oxygen saturation had more surviving children. These findings suggest that high-altitude hypoxia is acting as an agent of natural selection on the locus for oxygen saturation of hemoglobin by the mechanism of higher infant survival of Tibetan women with high oxygen saturation genotypes.

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