According to a new study which the journal Cell recently published, it seems that the Bajau people who live in southeastern Asia have developed a rare mutation. They have much bigger spleens than all the other humans, which allows them to stay underwater for longer. This is an incredible example of natural selection which seemingly has only affected this special people. They are nomadic people who survive by collecting shellfish from the bottom of the sea. Because of this, their spleens have developed to allow them to dive for longer. Even the related people in the area do not have this mutation.
The spleen is the size of a fist and it’s located close to the stomach. It is also responsible with removing the old cells form the blood and acting like a scuba tank for diving underwater. There are about one million Bajau people who live across the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. According to Melissa Ilardo, the study’s first author, for thousands of years, these people’s lifestyle had to do with water. They are living on house boats, travel in the water and only come on land rarely. Absolutely everything they need to survive comes form the sea.
The incredible Bajau people of South-East Asia
Venetian explorer Antonio Pigafetta was the first to mention these people in his writings from 1521. They have become famous for their extraordinary ability to hold their breath for long periods of time. About 60% of their time they are spending underwater, making numerous dives throughout the day. They are also diving to incredible depths, sometimes of about 70m with only a wooden mask, googles, and a weight belt.
It’s interesting that in comparison with neighbors, the Saluan people, the Bajau have spleens that are 50% larger. It has all been triggered by their aquatic lifestyle, whereas the Saluan never needed this because they are farmers.
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