May 302017
 
Matterhorn mountain climbing

espressoscience

This week, I have teamed up with content partner, Espresso Science, to give you two different perspectives on the same science story.

Check out Espresso Science on their website, HERE, on Twitter, @scidocmartin, and Soundcloud.

 


 

Matterhorn mountain climbingNow that I’m over 30, I can’t even stand up without having to hold on to a wall to brace for the inevitable head rush.

On the other end of the scale, Sherpas are the motherfuckers of high altitude living. Scientists from the ever so dapper Cambridge University have finally worked out that their ability to use oxygen more efficiently is what makes them so damn good at climbing up our biggest thing, Roberto Esquivel Cabrera’s penis Mount Everest.

I really have no idea who would want to climb up Mount Everest, it sounds dangerous and nothing like sitting inside watching TV. It feels to me like, somewhere along the line, a drunken dare has got out of hand.

Two hundred and ninety-eight explorers, desperate to say they have conquered Everest, have died since 1922. The most recent one (at the time of writing) was only nine days ago; they fell into a 200 m crevasse. The ascent is so dangerous that there’s even a section called ‘the death zone’.





Even if Brad Pitt‘s money was to ask me: “Hey, Andy, some friends and I are heading to the death zone this weekend to take some excellent drugs and draw each other, wanna come?” My reply would be a simple, but firm,”Fuck off”.

The things that kill people up there? Mainly avalanches and symptoms related to being in freezing temperatures at high altitudes. Out bodies suck at being high up. Sherpas, on the other hand, are really good at it and hold a load of the world records for most number of summits.

Sherpas are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, the Himalayas. Generations of Sherpas have lived at high altitudes so it stands to reason then, that they would have evolved to be awesome at high altitude climbing in the same way you are good at putting on weight for a food-scarce winter that will never come.

Scientists wanted to understand what gives Sherpas their home ground advantage. The posh team studied two groups of people on a recent expedition to Everest’s base camp, situated at 5,300 metres above sea level. One group consisted of mostly rich Europeans with an overactive sensitivity to locker-room bravado and the other group consisted of Sherpas. They analysed blood and bone samples from each of the two groups before and after they had ascended to base camp.

They found that mitochondria (the energy centres in the cell) were much more efficient in Sherpas than they were in Europeans. Not only that, the Sherpa’s mitochondria were much better at metabolising sugars rather than fat. Fat requires much more oxygen during metabolism, an element that becomes increasingly scarce at high altitudes, so it makes sense that the Sherpas have evolved not to use it as a fuel source often as us fatty-pumbas. The researchers attributed some of the Sherpas’ altitude advantages to a gene variation in the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor A (PPARA) gene, which favours glucose over fat for generating energy.

In the future, the scientists hope that the findings could lead to a better way of treating hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in emergency room situations.

To be honest, I’ll only be happy when they come up with a way to stop me from seeing stars every time I stand up to go grab something from the fridge.


Read more:

  1. Metabolic basis to Sherpa altitude adaptation




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