Thousands of years ago humans moved for the  first time into the Tibetan plateau, a vast expanse of steppelands that towers some 14,000 feet above sea level. Although these trailblazers would have had the benefit of entering a new ecosystem free of competition with other people, the low oxygen levels at that altitude would have placed severe stresses on the body, resulting in chronic altitude sickness and high infant mortality. Earlier this year a flurry of genetic studies identified a gene variant that is common in Tibetans but rare in other populations. This variant, which adjusts red blood cell production in Tibetans, helps to explain how Tibetans adapted to those harsh conditions. The dis­covery, which made headlines around the world, provided a dra­­matic example of how humans have undergone rapid biological adaptation to new environmental circumstances in the recent past. One study estimated that the beneficial variant spread to high frequency within the past 3,000 years—a mere instant in evolutionary terms.