Nav: Home

'Uniquely human' muscles have been discovered in apes

May 23, 2018

Muscles once thought 'uniquely human' have been discovered in several ape species, challenging long-held theories on the origin and evolution of human soft tissues. The findings question the anthropocentric view that certain muscles evolved for the sole purpose of providing special adaptations for human traits, such as walking on two legs, tool use, vocal communication and facial expressions. Published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the study highlights that thorough knowledge of ape anatomy is necessary for a better understanding of human evolution.

"This study contradicts key dogmas about human evolution and our distinct place on the 'ladder of nature,'" says Rui Diogo, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy at Howard University, Washington, USA. "Our detailed analysis shows that in fact, every muscle that has long-been accepted as 'uniquely human' and providing 'crucial singular functional adaptations' for our bipedalism, tool use and vocal and facial communications is actually present in the same or similar form in bonobos and other apes, such as common chimpanzees and gorillas."

Long-standing evolutionary theories are largely based on the bone structures of prehistoric specimens -- and, according to Diogo, also on the idea that humans are necessarily more special and complex than other animals. These theories suggest that certain muscles evolved in humans only, giving us our unique physical characteristics. However, verification of these theories has remained difficult due to scant descriptions of soft tissues in apes, which historically have mainly focused on only a few muscles in the head or limbs of a single specimen.

Diogo explains, "There is an understandable difficulty in finding primate, and particularly ape, specimens to dissect as they are so rare both in the wild and museums."

To find enough data to complete this research, Diogo compiled all previous information on ape anatomy based on studies with colleague Bernard Wood. He also conducted anatomical research on several bonobos that died of natural causes, together with colleagues at the University of Antwerp under the Bonobo Morphology Initiative 2016 -- looking for the presence of seven different muscles thought to have evolved only in our species.

Diogo discovered that these seven muscles were present in apes in a similar or even exact form. For example the fibularis tertius muscle, said to be uniquely associated with human bipedalism (walking on two legs), was present in half the examined bonobos. Similarly, both the laryngeal muscle arytenoideus obliquus and the facial muscle risorius -- thought to have evolved for our uniquely sophisticated vocal and facial communication, respectively -- were present in at least some chimpanzees and/or gorillas.

These findings open crucial new directions for research and question our understanding of human evolution. "The picture emerging from this research is that the origin and evolution of human soft-tissue is clearly more complex -- and not as exceptional -- as first thought," says Diogo.

"We need a more thorough examination of why these muscles are present in apes and, in some cases, in just part of a population within a certain species," he says. "Are these muscles essential for the apes that have them, as adaptationist evolutionary scientists would argue? Or are they evolutionary neutral features related to how their bodies develop, or simply by-products of other features?"

He concludes, "Most theories of human evolution give the impression that humans are markedly distinct from apes anatomically, but these are unverifiable 'just-so stories'. The real evidence shows we are not so different overall. This study highlights that a thorough knowledge of ape anatomy is necessary for a better understanding of our own bodies and evolutionary history."
-end-
Please include a link to the original research in your reporting: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2018.00053/full

Frontiers is an award-winning Open Science platform and leading open-access scholarly publisher. Our mission is to make high-quality, peer-reviewed research articles rapidly and freely available to everybody in the world, thereby accelerating scientific and technological innovation, societal progress and economic growth. Founded in 2007 by neuroscientists Kamila Markram and Henry Markram, Frontiers has grown to become one of the world's largest open-access publishers, receiving the industry-leading ALPSP Gold Award for Innovation in Publishing in 2014. For more information, visit http://www.frontiersin.org and follow @Frontiersin on Twitter

Frontiers

Related Evolution Articles:

Artificial evolution of an industry
A research team has taken a deep dive into the newly emerging domain of 'forward-looking' business strategies that show firms have far more ability to actively influence the future of their markets than once thought.
Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.
A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.
Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.