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Does climbing Everest alter your genetic code?


The biggest challenge for Moniz and Benegas on Everest proved not to be drawing blood (which they did at Base Camp, Camp II, and back at Base Camp immediately after summiting). Instead, it was the logistics of getting their laboratory specimens off the mountain during the expedition. They had a 48-hour window from the time of collection for their biological samples to arrive in Kathmandu and be centrifuged and frozen at minus 80 degrees Celsius. “It was aggressive but possible, as long as everything went exactly as planned,” Moniz says.

To make the deadline, Moniz and Benegas made their collections in the early morning, well before the notorious afternoon weather rolls in, which typically grounds all helicopter flights to and from Everest. They placed the vials in a special collection box designed to keep them upright and then sent the box with one of the helicopters on its way back to the village of Lukla after it delivered food and supplies to the mountain. A colleague picked up the sample box from the airstrip in Lukla and transferred it to a fixed-wing plane for departure to Kathmandu, where another colleague picked it up and drove it to the lab for processing.


“It wouldn’t have been possible without years of experience on Everest, without the network of friends who were really excited about what we were doing and willing to help us any way they could,” Benegas says.


Mason is currently waiting for the shipment of specimens from Kathmandu, where they’ve been held up for several weeks in the freezer as the required paperwork goes through proper protocol when conducting scientific research on live humans. As for the participants, Benegas says the Everest twins study marks his official retirement from the world’s tallest peak.

Moniz, meanwhile, is just getting started and hopes to continue mixing science and high-altitude mountaineering although he’d prefer not to have to deal with the vampire kit again.

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