One spe­cific gene mu­ta­tion helped turn hu­mans into long-dis­tance run­ners

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

A gene mu­ta­tion mil­lions of years ago gave mod­ern hu­mans the abil­ity to run long dis­tances, a new study has found.

This sin­gle change in one strand in the DNA com­pletely al­tered the path of the hu­man species, mak­ing for­est dwellers into hunter-gath­er­ers who even­tu­ally dom­i­nated the world.

About 2 to 3 mil­lion years ago, a sin­gle mu­ta­tion in the DNA of the early hu­man species trig­gered a se­ries of changes in the body, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to run long dis­tances with­out feel­ing ex­hausted. This is how hu­mans dis­tin­guished them­selves from other mam­mals dur­ing the hunter-gath­erer phase. In­stead of re­leas­ing a quick spurt of en­ergy like a chee­tah to catch a prey, hu­mans pur­sue their tar­get un­til it is too tired to keep run­ning.

The tac­tic proved to be ef­fec­tive es­pe­cially when the forests in Africa be­came sa­van­nahs and even­tu­ally, the hu­man an­ces­tors started to evolve dra­mat­i­cally. Early ho­minids, who de­vel­oped longer and springy legs, big­ger feet, strong gluteal mus­cles, lost their fur and ex­panded sweat glands that helped make the species great long-dis­tance run­ners.

The gene in ques­tion is called the CMP-Neu5Ac Hy­drox­y­lase or CMAH.

“We eval­u­ated the ex­er­cise ca­pac­ity (of mice lack­ing the CMAH gene), and noted an in­creased per­for­mance dur­ing tread­mill test­ing and af­ter 15 days of vol­un­tary wheel run­ning,” stated grad­u­ate stu­dent and study au­thor Jon Okerblom.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, the mice that have bro­ken CMAH, like hu­mans, were able to run 12 per­cent faster and 20 per­cent longer than those who have the nor­mal gene. They also have more blood ves­sels into their leg mus­cles that con­tract longer when in mo­tion.

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