A group of people with an amphibious life have evolved traits to match

Apr 19, 2018

THE Bajau, a people of the Malay Archipelago, spend almost all of their lives at sea. They live either on boats or in huts perched on stilts on shallow reefs, and they migrate from place to place in flotillas that carry entire clans. They survive on a diet composed almost entirely of seafood. And to gather this they spend 60% of their working day underwater.

Unsurprisingly, their diving abilities are prodigious. They sometimes descend more than 70 metres, and can stay submerged for up to five minutes, using nothing more than a set of weights to reduce buoyancy and a pair of wooden goggles fitted with lenses fashioned from scrap glass that are resistant to distortion by the pressure at such depth. Since the Bajau have lived like this for a long time (historical evidence suggests at least 1,000 years), many researchers have speculated that they carry genetic traits which adapt them to their remarkable lifestyle. Now, as they report in Cell, Melissa Ilardo and Rasmus...


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