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Is it possible to develop a mutation that allows us to breathe underwater?

 The mutation of the I BAJAU: super-divers in deep water


The BAJAUs are a tribe living mainly on the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Joló Archipelago, located in the southwestern Philippines. It is said that BAJAU can stay up to 13 minutes underwater at depths of 60 to 70 meters

Most "normal" humans hold their breath underwater for 2-3 minutes, but for Bajau, 3 minutes is practically nothing.

BajaUs are a tribe that has a strange mutation that allows them to swim freely in sea depths of up to 60 and 70 meters for an extended period of 13 minutes; this ability has allowed them to develop the size of their rats. This is revealed by a study published in the scientific journal Cell, in which scientists from the University of Copenhagen, California, and members of the University of Cambridge collaborated. The Bajaus are known by the nickname "nomads of the sea", who for more than a thousand years traveled the coasts of Southeast Asia in Palafitos (houses built on stilts), always feeding on the resources provided by the sea, hunting with spears.

Pai Bayubu

Since they never practice this activity as a form of competition, the maximum endurance they can achieve underwater is totally unknown; a member of the tribe assured investigator Melissa Llardo that he was able to dive for 13 consecutive minutes. Llardo told The Atlantic that she dived with Pai Bayubu, a member of the island who showed her how easy it was to descend into the ocean.

But how is it possible that they can immerse themselves in the water for so long?

cardiovascular response

When you hold your breath, your body automatically activates a cardiovascular response: your heart rate slows down, while your blood vessels and spleen constrict. This protection mechanism is intended to help save energy when a limited amount of oxygen is available. In the past, it has been assumed that the spleen may play an important role in allowing humans to freely immerse themselves in water for long periods of time. However, the relationship between spleen size and ability to dive has never been studied from a genetic point of view. There is now evidence that genetic adaptation has occurred in some humans, who possess greater diving abilities than the average man.

After a few visits to the site, Llardo scanned the bodies of 59 BAJAUS using an ultrasound device, and found that their spleen was 50% larger than that of the SULAN, a neighboring tribe that does not have this aquatic life.

When the spleen contracts, there is an expulsion of red blood cells into the bloodstream, which promotes an increase in oxygen levels. Some studies estimate that this reaction increases oxygen levels by up to 9%, which prolongs the time we can remain immersed in water. This genetic adaptation promotes increased levels of thyroxine (thyroid hormone) which, as a result, leads to an increase in the size of the spleen. In research conducted on laboratory mice, the hormone thyroxine was suppressed by genetic modification, which resulted in a reduction in the size of the spleen.

This is the first time that a genetic adaptation to diving has been identified in humans.


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