J'AI LA RATE QUI SE DILATE. Les Banjaus indonésiens, nomades de la mer, ont évolué physiologiquement depuis un millier d'années, pour s'adapter à la plongée en grande profondeur. Ils ont ainsi acquis une rate surdimensionnée. Metro, hier. Jasper Hamill.
The genetic change discovered in the Bajau tribe is the first known example of a human adaptation to deep diving.
For more than 1,000 years, the Bajau – known as ‘Sea Nomads’ – have wandered the seas of southern Asia in houseboats, catching fish by free diving with spears. Now settled around the islands of Indonesia, they are famous for their extraordinary breath-holding ability. Members of the tribe can dive up to 70 metres (230ft) aided by nothing more than a set of weights and a pair of wooden goggles.
The spleen plays a key role in the ‘human dive response’ that puts the body in survival mode when it is submerged under cold water for even brief amounts of time. As the dive response kicks in, heart rate slows, blood is directed to the vital organs, and the spleen contracts to inject oxygenated red blood cells into the circulation. Spleen contraction can boost oxygen levels in the body by 9%. The new study found that the spleens of the Bajau people are 50% larger than those of their land-dwelling neighbours, the Saluan. Lead scientist Melissa Ilardo, from Cambridge University, who embarked on the research as a PhD candidate, said: ‘There’s not a lot of information out there about human spleens in terms of physiology and genetics, but we know that deep diving seals, like the Weddell seal, have disproportionately large spleens. ‘I thought that if selection acted on the seals to give them larger spleens, it could potentially do the same in humans.’
Ms Ilardo spent several months in Jaya Bakti, Indonesia, taking genetic samples and conducting ultrasound scans of people from the Bajau and Saluan tribes. The evidence showed that Bajau spleens were permanently enlarged, and did not get bigger simply as a response to diving. DNA analysis showed that the Bajau have a gene called PDE10A that is lacking in the Saluan. The gene is thought to alter spleen size by adjusting thyroid hormone levels. Ilado said: ‘We believe that in the Bajau they have an adaptation that increases thyroid hormone levels and therefore increases their spleen size.