Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Evolutionary surprise: Freedom of neck played major role in human brain evolution, research suggests

Date:
August 11, 2010
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
By deciphering the genetics in humans and fish, scientists now believe that the neck -- that little body part between your head and shoulders -- gave humans so much freedom of movement that it played a surprising and major role in the evolution of the human brain, according to neuroscientists.

X-ray of a human head showing a example of contortion: the neck bending back and forward.
Credit: iStockphoto/Max Delson Martins Santos

By deciphering the genetics in humans and fish, scientists now believe that the neck -- that little body part between your head and shoulders -- gave humans so much freedom of movement that it played a surprising and major role in the evolution of the human brain, according to New York University and Cornell University neuroscientists in the online journal Nature Communications (July 27, 2010.)

Related Articles


Scientists had assumed the pectoral fins in fish and the forelimbs (arms and hands) in humans are innervated -- or receive nerves -- from the exact same neurons. After all, the fins on fish and the arms on humans seem to be in the same place on the body. Not so.

During our early ancestors' transition from fish to land-dwellers that gave rise to upright mammals, the source for neurons that directly control the forelimbs moved from the brain into the spinal cord, as the torso moved away from the head and was given a neck. In other words human arms, like the wings of bats and birds, became separate from the head and placed on the torso below the neck.

"A neck allowed for improved movement and dexterity in terrestrial and aerial environments," says Andrew Bass, Cornell professor of neurobiology and behavior, and an author on the paper. "This innovation in biomechanics evolved hand-in-hand with changes in how the nervous system controls our limbs."

Bass explained that this unexpected level of evolutionary plasticity likely accounts for the incredible range of forelimb abilities -- from their use in flight by birds to swimming by whales and dolphins, and playing piano for humans.

The research was authored by Leung-Hang Ma (first author) and Robert Baker (corresponding author), both of Department of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University Langone Medical Center; Edward Gilland, Department of Anatomy, Howard University; and Bass. All four researchers are affiliated with the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation funded the research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Leung-Hang Ma, Edwin Gilland, Andrew H. Bass, Robert Baker. Ancestry of motor innervation to pectoral fin and forelimb. Nature Communications, 2010; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1045

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Evolutionary surprise: Freedom of neck played major role in human brain evolution, research suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100727112833.htm>.
Cornell University. (2010, August 11). Evolutionary surprise: Freedom of neck played major role in human brain evolution, research suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100727112833.htm
Cornell University. "Evolutionary surprise: Freedom of neck played major role in human brain evolution, research suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100727112833.htm (accessed February 1, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nanoscale Sensor Could Help Wine Producers and Clinical Scientists

Nanoscale Sensor Could Help Wine Producers and Clinical Scientists

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 30, 2015) A nanosensor that mimics the oral effects and sensations of drinking wine has been developed by Danish and Portuguese researchers. Jim Drury saw it in operation. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Dog-Loving Astronaut Wins Best Photo of 2015

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) Retired astronaut and television host, Leland Melvin, snuck his dogs into the NASA studio so they could be in his official photo. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us, the secret is out. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

U.S. Wants to Analyze DNA from 1 Million People

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 30, 2015) The U.S. has proposed analyzing genetic information from more than 1 million American volunteers to learn how genetic variants affect health and disease. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rarest Cat on Planet Caught Attacking Monkeys on Camera

Rarest Cat on Planet Caught Attacking Monkeys on Camera

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) An African Golden Cat, the rarest large cat on the planet was recently caught on camera by scientists trying to study monkeys. The cat comes out of nowhere to attack those monkeys. Patrick Jones (@Patrick_E_Jones) has the rest. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins