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Human Superpowers

In this age of Marvel comics, superheroes with superpowers have attained a high degree of cultural fascination. But some superpowers exist in real life, courtesy of natural selection. One such superpower is the ability of the Bajau people to dive longer and deeper than other people. This ability is linked to a bigger spleen, a trait with a heritable signature, that is found in the Bajau, a sea nomadic people of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This discovery was described by principle investigator Melissa Ilardo in this recent NY Times article by Carl Zimmer:

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Another human superpower is shared by the high altitude people of the Andes, the Himalayan plateau, and Ethiopian Highlands. The three separate routes to adaptation in these three groups has been the subject of study of Cynthia Beall. We have covered her work on this blog for the last decade.


Kate Rusk, Coffee Brown and I teamed up to dive into human superpowers for this episode of the EvolutionMedicine podcast. We explore the biology behind the exceptional abilities of the Bajau, Tibtans, Andeans, Ethiopians, the Japanese Ama and more. The podcast is split into two episodes. Part one focuses more on high altitude. Part two describes the sea nomads in detail.  Slides for the podcast can be found here:


Categories: Uncategorized

Joe Alcock

Emergency Physician, Educator, Researcher, interested in the microbiome, evolution, and medicine

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