The Mystery of Human’s Amazing Long-distance Running Ability Finally Resolved


It is well-known that humans possess a unique stamina that can be matched by only a few other species belonging to the animal kingdom, but the scientists were unable to explain what lies behind this great advantage. However, a recent study reveals that a mutation of one single gene that took place between 2 and 3 million years ago allowed our ancestors to leave the forest habitat in favor of open spaces.

A gene that changed our history

According to a recent research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the loss of a gene called CMAH coincides with a big step in early humanoids’ evolution, when around 2-3 million years ago our ancestors started transforming their lifestyle, becoming the inhabitants of savannahs. A team of scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine came to this conclusion thanks to mice that were engineered to lack this gene.

The evolution of our ancestors

The mutation of CMAH triggered a series of changes in physiology and skeletal biomechanics, turning our tree-dwelling ancestors into tireless long-distance runners. Their extraordinary stamina allowed them to hunt in extremely hot temperatures, when other carnivores were forced to rest.

A small change that made a great impact

The loss of the CMAH gene had a great effect on our ancestors’ usage of sialic acids, the sugar molecules that cover the surfaces of animal cells, and which are responsible for the interaction with other cells and the environment. It caused the loss of a sialic acid known as N-glycolylneuraminic, which in turn was replaced by the N-acetylneuraminic acid. This relatively small change not only turned our ancestors into exceptional long-distance runners, but also improved their immune system. From that moment on, they started colonizing the Earth, eventually becoming its masters.


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