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.)

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 July 30, 2014 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 July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its 2014 list of single meals with whopping calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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