Sea Nomad Gene: Meet the Bajau Tribe, the First Humans Genetically Adapted for Diving

Cambridge, England – The Bajau tribe in Indonesia has made headlines as the first humans known to genetically adapt to diving. Living along the coasts of Indonesia for over a millennium, the Bajau people have developed unique genetic traits that allow them to spend extended periods underwater.

These sea nomads have honed their diving skills over generations, with the ability to dive up to 230 feet using minimal equipment. The Bajau tribe’s exceptional lung capacities, swimming prowess, and diving efficiency have fascinated experts worldwide.

Researchers from Cambridge University have uncovered a genetic mutation among the Bajau people, known as the ‘sea nomad gene,’ which contributes to their remarkable diving abilities. This genetic adaptation includes the development of larger spleens, which play a crucial role in the human dive response.

When submerged in water, the spleen contracts to release oxygenated red blood cells into the bloodstream, increasing oxygen levels by up to nine percent. The Bajau’s enlarged spleens provide them with a significant advantage when exploring the depths of the ocean for extended periods.

Scientists believe that the Bajau people’s adaptation may be linked to higher thyroid hormone levels, which in turn contribute to the increase in spleen size. Similar trends have been observed in deep-diving seals, pointing to a connection between thyroid hormones and spleen size in aquatic mammals.

Despite their remarkable abilities, the Bajau people face challenges to their traditional way of life. Issues such as gaining citizenship and the impact of commercial fishing on their food supply threaten the sustainability of their nomadic lifestyle.

The Bajau tribe’s unique genetic traits shed light on the incredible adaptations that human populations can develop in response to their environments. Their story serves as a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of indigenous communities around the world, navigating the challenges of modernization while preserving their cultural heritage.