Presentations from the Evolution in Extreme Environments symposium are available on the NESCent website.

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Hypoxia Videos

In March of 2009, nearly 25 top researchers from around the world gathered at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC to explore the role of evolution by natural selection in human adaptation to hypoxia, decreased oxygen levels at higher elevations.

For three days, physiologists, geneticists, anthropologists and physicians shared what is known about the human populations of the Himalayas, the Andes and the mountains of the East African plateaus. Individuals living in these environments can be viewed as the subjects of so-called “natural experiments” to determine how evolution has enabled humans to survive and thrive in these extreme environments.

The findings and conclusions of this meeting have implications not only for our understanding of basic evolutionary questions, but also for a variety of issues critical to human health and medicine, even for individuals at sea level.

During the course of the meeting, several participants shared their expertise and perspectives on the important questions, challenges, findings and implications of human adaptation to hypoxia.

Dr. Cynthia Beall

Dr. Cynthia Beall – Case Western Reserve University

Dr. Cynthia Beall is a physical anthropologist and professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  She is a leader in the study of the biological nature and history of people who live at high altitudes, and has done field work in the Andes and on the Tibetan plateau, among other places. 

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Dr. Peter Robbins

Dr. Peter Robbins – Oxford University

Dr. Peter Robbins is a human physiologist and professor at the University of Oxford.  His interests include the effects of oxygen (and oxygen deprivation) on the human body, particularly in terms of the effects this has in human health and disease.

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Dr. Hugh Montgomery

Dr. Hugh Montgomery – University College, London

Dr. Hugh Montgomery is a professor of intensive care medicine at University College in London, where he also directs the Institute for Human Health and Performance.  In addition to being a physician who treats patients suffering from hypoxia and a researcher who studies it, he is also an accomplished mountaineer who has climbed some of the world’s tallest peaks.  Therefore, his own survival, as well as that of his patients, depends on an understanding of the challenges faced by those dealing with hypoxia.

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Dr. Lorna Moore

Dr. Lorna Moore – Wake Forest University

Dr. Lorna Moore is a professor of Anthropology, Physiology, Obstetrics and Gynecology and Public Health Sciences, and Dean of the Graduate School at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  For over 30 years she has studied high-altitude pregnancies in locations such as Tibet, Peru, and the Rocky Mountains, and is currently doing her fieldwork in Bolivia.

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Dr. Jay Storz

Dr. Jay Storz – University of Nebraska

Dr. Jay Storz is an evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of Nebraska.  He studies the genetic basis of adaptive evolutionary change, with an emphasis on high altitude adaptation.  His research focuses mainly on genetic variations in natural populations of mice at both high and low altitudes.  These findings yield insight into human adaptation to these environments, as well.

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Dr. Gianpiero Cavallieri

Dr. Gianpiero Cavallieri – Royal College of Surgeons (Dublin, Ireland)

Dr. Gianpiero Cavallieri is a researcher at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, where he studies the importance of human genetic diversity.  While much of his work focuses on epilepsy, he has a long-standing interest in the genetics of high altitude adaptation.

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Dr. Tom Brutsaert

Dr. Tom Brutsaert – State University of New York, Albany

Dr. Tom Brutsaert is a professor at the State University of New York at Albany.  He studies native populations in the Andes (Peru and Bolivia).  His research focuses on physiological and genetic adaptations to high altitudes, particularly as they pertain to exercise performance.

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