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Thread: Neat science articles about adaptations and evolution in sea-faring populations

  1. #1

    Neat science articles about adaptations and evolution in sea-faring populations

    I was looking for interesting articles about human evolution for my genetics classes, and stumbled on two articles that I thought I'd share here.

    The first is about the Bajau people in Southeast Asia, sometimes called the Sea Nomads, who can dive up to 70m with just weights and goggles. Some of them spend ~60% of their day underwater gathering food. The article compared their genomes with other populations and discovered that many of them have a genetic variation that may give them enlarged spleens. Spleens apparently contract as part of the human response to diving, which squirts extra red blood cells into their bloodstream. The gene responsible is a variant of PED10A, which may enlarge the spleens by increasing thyroid hormone production. The Science Magazine article about it is here. They have other potential genetic changes too, but this was the most interesting one. This particular variation is found in 37% of the Bajau, but only about 1-3% of the other populations they studied.

    In the second study they followed up on a previous finding that children of the Moken people of Burma and off the west coast of Thailand have greater visual acuity underwater than kids in other populations. But in this study, they found that the ability to see better underwater can be learned! They describe how they trained European children to see better over a period of 33 days, using underwater letter-identification tasks. After the training the European children could see just as well as the Moken children. The full article is here. (I couldn't find a news summary of it, sorry! But it said it's an open-access article so you should be able to see it.)

    I figured the second one would be of great interest to any mer who's trying to perform without goggles. They did say that the children all had 20/20 vision, and they were ages 9-13...but I say that means there's still hope for even or near/farsighted adults because our brains still have a lot of plasticity. (If we could just make sure our contacts stay on underwater...)

    I'm also curious if professional performers have noticed an increase in their underwater visual acuity over time. Perhaps you should contact the scientists involved and tell them to compare mers to ordinary folks.
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  2. #2
    That's some really cool information. I've read through the second study, and it seems that condition is dependent on the plasticity of the lenses of your eyes. Children can adapt to it and learn, but lose the ability as they grow older. I imagine that despite that, it's still possible to adapt and become accustomed to looking underwater to some degree while swimming. But don't expect perfect vision either. However, some myopic folk's visual acuity is bad enough that the deformity of their retinas allows them to see underwater is if they had perfect vision!
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