Research Title : Why Don't Birds Get Chronic Mountain Sickness?
Jessie Williamson, a PhD student in the Department of Biology, traveled to Peru in 2018 to research how birds in the Andes survive at high altitude without suffering from Chronic Mountain Sickness (CMS) that affects Andean human populations. Jessie conducted altitude simulation experiments in the field by changing air pressure and measuring birds’ genetic and physiological responses. Jessie then evaluated how low- and high-elevation birds react to changes in altitude and whether their reaction differs from the human response at a biochemical level. Jessie’s research reveals how wild birds protect themselves against the detrimental health consequences of CMS. By comparing responses of wild birds with humans that suffer from CMS, Jessie’s research helps us understand whether CMS is a genetic phenomenon, whether it is related to flexibility of physical expression, and how wild birds combat it. Jessie’s findings could lead to new insights in medicine and CMS prevention.