Navigation Links
Anthropologist finds explanation for hominin brain evolution in famous fossil

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- One of the world's most important fossils has a story to tell about the brain evolution of modern humans and their ancestors, according to Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk.

The Taung fossil the first australopithecine ever discovered has two significant features that were analyzed by Falk and a group of anthropological researchers. Their findings, which suggest brain evolution was a result of a complex set of interrelated dynamics in childbirth among new bipeds, were published May 7 in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"These findings are significant because they provide a highly plausible explanation as to why the hominin brain might grow larger and more complex," Falk said.

The first feature is a "persistent metopic suture," or unfused seam, in the frontal bone, which allows a baby's skull to be pliable during childbirth as it squeezes through the birth canal. In great apes gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees the metopic suture closes shortly after birth. In humans, it does not fuse until around 2 years of age to accommodate rapid brain growth.

The second feature is the fossil's endocast, or imprint of the outside surface of the brain transferred to the inside of the skull. The endocast allows researchers to examine the brain's form and structure.

After examining the Taung fossil, as well as huge numbers of skulls belonging to apes and humans, as well as corresponding 3-D CT (three-dimensional computed tomographic) scans, and taking into account the fossil record for the past 3 million years, Falk and her colleagues noted three important findings: The persistent metopic suture is an adaptation for giving birth to babies with larger brains; is related to the shift to a rapidly growing brain after birth; and may be related to expansion in the frontal lobes.

"The persistent metopic suture, an advanced trait, probably occurred in conjunction with refining the ability to walk on two legs," Falk said. "The ability to walk upright caused an obstretric dilemma. Childbirth became more difficult because the shape of the birth canal became constricted while the size of the brain increased. The persistent metopic suture contributes to an evolutionary solution to this dilemma."

The later fusion of the metopic suture is most likely an adaptation of hominins who walked upright to be able to more easily give birth to babies with relatively large brains. The unfused seam is also related to the shift to rapidly growing brains after birth, an advanced human-like feature as compared to apes.

"The later fusion was also associated with evolutionary expansion of the frontal lobes, which is evident from the endocasts of australopithecines such as Taung," Falk said.

The Taung fossil, which is estimated to be around 2 million years old, was discovered in 1924 in Taung, South Africa. It became the "type specimen," or main model, of the genus Australopithecus africanus when it was announced in 1925.

An australopithecine is any species of the extinct genera Australopithecus or Paranthropus that lived in Africa, walked on two legs and had relatively small brains.

Contact: Dean Falk
Florida State University

Related biology news :

1. Anthropologist discovers new fossil primate species in West Texas
2. Missouri elk are being reintroduced in the wrong part of the state, MU anthropologist says
3. Recently analyzed fossil was not human ancestor as claimed, anthropologists say
4. Hobbit fossils represent a new species, concludes University of Minnesota anthropologist
5. Texas A&M anthropologist discovers long-lost primate in Indonesia
6. LSU research finds orangutans host ancient jumping genes
7. Syracuse University study finds autumn advantage for invasive plants in eastern United States
8. Pacific islands may become refuge for corals in a warming climate, study finds
9. New study finds a protein combination is best to consume post-workout for building muscle
10. Study finds Western diet detrimental to fetal hippocampal tissue transplants
11. Study finds soda consumption increases overall stroke risk
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015  Rubicon Genomics, Inc., today announced an ... its DNA library preparation products, including the ThruPLEX ... Plasma-seq kit. ThruPLEX Plasma-seq has been optimized for ... libraries for liquid biopsies--the analysis of cell-free circulating ... in cancer and other conditions. Eurofins Scientific is ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... Oct. 29, 2015 Today, LifeBEAM ... partnership with 2XU, a global leader in technical ... smart hat with advanced bio-sensing technology. The hat ... to monitor key biometrics to improve overall training ... the two companies will bring together the most advanced ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... 2015 Synaptics Inc. (NASDAQ: SYNA ), the ... has adopted the Synaptics ® ClearPad ® ... its newest flagship smartphones, the Nexus 5X by LG ... --> --> Synaptics works closely ... collaboration in the joint development of next generation technologies. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: HALO ... New York on Wednesday, December 2 at ... , president and CEO, will provide a corporate overview. ... at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT . ... will provide a corporate overview. --> th Annual ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... -- Clintrax Global, Inc., a worldwide provider of clinical research services headquartered ... the company has set a new quarterly earnings record in Q3 ... posted for Q3 of 2014 to Q3 of 2015.   ... , with the establishment of an Asia-Pacific ... United Kingdom and Mexico , with ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , November 24, 2015 ... market research report released by Transparency Market Research, the ... at a CAGR of 17.5% during the period between ... Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Volume, Share, Growth, ... non-invasive prenatal testing market to reach a valuation of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... InSphero AG, the leading supplier of easy-to-use solutions for production, culture, and ... as Chief Operating Officer. , Having joined InSphero in November 2013 as ... promoted to Head of InSphero Diagnostics in 2014. There she has built up ...
Breaking Biology Technology: