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Muscling in on hominid evolution


, : Muscling in on hominid evolution. Nature 428: 3-4

In this issue, Stedman et al. report what may be the first functional genetic difference between humans and apes. A reduced reliance on powerful masticatory or jaw muscles as a means of breaking down food is one of the morphological innovations associated with the evolution of the genus Homo. Stedman et al. found that humans have a mutation in the MYH16 gene, which encodes myosin heavy chain, whereas all nonhuman primates for which genome sequence could be obtained have an intact copy of the gene. Inactivating MYH16 frequently causes a reduction in muscle size. The timing of the appearance of the mutation also roughly coincides with the appearance of humanlike characteristics in the hominid fossil record. Stedman et al. offer convincing arguments as to how the mutation could have been responsible for the evolution of humanlike traits, but they fail to address certain pertinent issues, such as the adaptive significance of the mutation.

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