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Tibetans' high-altitude skills came via extinct cousin

Published on Jul 3, 2014 1:22 AM

PARIS (AFP) - Tibetans are able to live at high altitude thanks to a special gene they inherited from a mysterious, now-extinct branch of the human family, scientists reported on Wednesday.

The ancestors of today's Tibetans acquired a key variant of a gene regulating oxygen in the blood when they mated with a species of human called the Denisovans, they said.

Contemporaries of the Neanderthals - and like them, possibly wiped out by anatomically modern man, Homo sapiens - the Denisovans first came to light only four years ago.

Their existence was determined through a piece of finger bone and two molars unearthed at the Denisova Cave in southern Siberia's Altai Mountains and dated to some 80,000 years ago.

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