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Do you have "the right stuff" to be a high altitude climber?
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Jan 8, 2008 00: 36 EST
Scientists are coming closer to identifying "the right stuff" for high altitude mountaineers. Is there a magic test that can tell you whether you have it? What are your chances of summitting an 8000m peak? We're getting closer to figuring it out in this article, a product of the Caudwell Extreme Everest group research project. They report results of a study that identifies a genetic propensity to summit among successful mountaineers. Perhaps just one of the variables that will tell us why one person summits while his partner is left gasping in his dust?

Angiotensin-converting enzyme genotype and successful ascent to extreme high altitude

Interindividual variation in acclimatization to altitude suggests a genetic component, and several candidate genes have been proposed. One such candidate is a polymorphism in the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene, where the insertion (I-allele), rather than the deletion (D-allele), of a 287 base pair sequence has been associated with lower circulating and tissue ACE activity and has a greater than normal frequency among elite endurance athletes and, in a single study, among elite high altitude mountaineers. We tested the hypothesis that the I-allele is associated with successful ascent to the extreme high altitude of 8000 m. 141 mountaineers who had participated in expeditions attempting to climb an 8000-m peak completed a questionnaire and provided a buccal swab for ACE I/D genotyping. ACE genotype was determined in 139 mountaineers. ACE genotype distribution differed significantly between those who had successfully climbed beyond 8000 m and those who had not (p = 0.003), with a relative overrepresentation of the I-allele among the successful group (0.55 vs. 0.36 in successful vs. unsuccessful, respectively). The I-allele was associated with increased maximum altitudes achieved: 8079 ± 947 m for DDs, 8107 ± 653 m for IDs, and 8559 ± 565 m for IIs (p = 0.007). There was no statistical difference in ACE genotype frequency between those who climbed to over 8000 m using supplementary oxygen and those who did not (p = 0.267). This study demonstrates an association between the ACE I-allele and successful ascent to over 8000 m.

For more information, read the entire article:
Thomspon Julian, James Raitt, Lynn Hutchings, Fotios Drenos, Eirik Bjargo, Are Loset, Mike Grocott, and Hugh Montgomery, for the Caudwell Xtreme Everest Research Group. Angiotensin-converting enzyme genotype and successful ascent to extreme high altitude. High Alt. Med. Biol. 8:278–285, 2007.—
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