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PLoS One. 2011 Feb 28;6(2):e17002. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017002.

On the origin of Tibetans and their genetic basis in adapting high-altitude environments.

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National Research Institute for Family Planning, Beijing, People's Republic of China.


Since their arrival in the Tibetan Plateau during the Neolithic Age, Tibetans have been well-adapted to extreme environmental conditions and possess genetic variation that reflect their living environment and migratory history. To investigate the origin of Tibetans and the genetic basis of adaptation in a rigorous environment, we genotyped 30 Tibetan individuals with more than one million SNP markers. Our findings suggested that Tibetans, together with the Yi people, were descendants of Tibeto-Burmans who diverged from ancient settlers of East Asia. The valleys of the Hengduan Mountain range may be a major migration route. We also identified a set of positively-selected genes that belong to functional classes of the embryonic, female gonad, and blood vessel developments, as well as response to hypoxia. Most of these genes were highly correlated with population-specific and beneficial phenotypes, such as high infant survival rate and the absence of chronic mountain sickness.

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