How Genetic Variant allows mice to survive at high altitudes

Mice at high altitudes

New research printed in the academic journal PLOS Genetics, discloses how mice living at high altitudes have a high heart rate to help them cope in areas of low oxygen.

Researchers have discovered that mice living at high altitudes in the American West contain a genetic variant that increases their heart rate. This mechanism allows the mice to thrive at high elevations, where there are low concentrations of oxygen.

Rena Schweizer and her associates from the University of Montana, studied the genetic changes in the North America deer mouse to comprehend this phenomenon.

The environments of mountains and plateaus make it hard for mammals to live due to the cold temperature and low levels of oxygen. Researchers have associated the deer mouse’s physiological modifications to their capability to cope at such elevations.

By arranging samples from 100 mice from several different levels of elevation, the researchers were able to detect the Epas1 gene variant. The genetic variant Epas1 is predominantly common in deer mice that live at high elevations rather than the lowland populations.

Deer mice that live higher up have a greater heart rate when exposed to air with lower oxygen levels. This high heart rate boosts the amount of oxygen circulating in their bloodstream, consequently allowing them to live at higher altitudes.

It is the first study to stress the association between naturally occurring variations of the Epas1 and variations to the heart rate. The research also suggests that Epas1 may encourage long-term survival of high-altitude deer mice.

The Epas1 gene has also been involved in cardiovascular and respiratory adaptations in Tibetan humans living on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. It becomes evident when their genetics are matched against lowland Han Chinese inhabitants.

“Our study concentrates on a really important question about how adaptation happens on complex physiology that is managed by several interacting systems,” said author Rena Schweizer.

Schweizer continued:”Epas1 may help long-term survival of high-altitude deer mice, and is a case by which a moderately simple genetic change in a control gene may modify adaptive traits. Our future work on Epas1 is targeted at discovering the specific mechanisms by which the protein-altering mutation influences heart rate, and whether the mutation affects any other characteristics that we did not previously calculate.”


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