Known as Sea Nomads, the Bajau people of South-East Asia have lived off the sea for over a thousand years, free diving to fish and forage (pictured). Remarkably, they can dive down to 70 metres with virtually no equipment, holding their breath underwater for up to 13 minutes. Among other adaptations, this diving prowess may be related to the size of their spleen, an organ that, during a dive, releases a reservoir of oxygen-rich red blood cells to boost oxygen supply. Compared to Indonesian people less reliant on diving, the Bajau possess larger spleens, providing a greater reserve of oxygen for long dives. Moreover, these enlarged spleens are associated with a variant of the gene PDE10A, hinting at a genetic adaptation to their way of life. The Bajau’s abilities also offer a new window into ways of dealing with oxygen restriction, or hypoxia, a common problem in many medical conditions.
Today is World Oceans Day
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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