Bodies Remodeled for a Life at Sea
We are the products of evolution, and not just evolution that occurred billions of years ago. As scientists peer deeper into our genes, they are discovering instances of human evolution in just the past few thousand years.
People in Tibet and Ethiopian highlands have adapted to living at high altitudes, for example. Cattle-herding people in East Africa and northern Europe have gained a mutation that helps them digest milk as adults.
On Thursday in the journal Cell, a team of researchers reported a new kind of adaptation — not to air or to food, but to the ocean. A group of sea-dwelling people in Southeast Asia have evolved into better divers.
The Bajau, as these people are known, number in the hundreds of thousands, scattered in communities in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. They have traditionally lived on houseboats; in recent times, they’ve also built houses on stilts in coastal waters.
“They are simply a stranger to the land,” said Rodney C. Jubilado, a University of Hawaii anthropologist who studies the Bajau but was not involved in the new study.