Gene Mutation Made Our Ancestors Better Long Distance Runners

Sep 12, 2018

By Mark Barna

Humans aren’t as strong as lions, can’t run as fast as cheetahs and don’t see as well as owls. But there is one thing we are pretty good at: endurance running.

Between 2 and 3 million years ago, our African ancestors adapted to a climate period that caused forests to thin and arid savannahs to expand. Changes to their biology and skeletal structure enabled them to run longer distances, offering a survival advantage in hunting prey, scientists say.

It is believed our ancestors back then engaged in persistence hunting, where animals are chased across open expanses until they’re exhausted and easily killed. This was also the time when hominids were likely eating more meat, which has been linked to increasing brain size.

But a missing piece in the puzzle of this transformation of hominids into meat-eating, spear-carrying endurance runners has been lack of genetic and molecular evidence. A paper published Sept. 12 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B offers a step in that direction.

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9 comments on “Gene Mutation Made Our Ancestors Better Long Distance Runners

  • Great to hear ” Changes to their biology and skeletal structure enabled them to run longer distances, offering a survival advantage in hunting prey, scientists say.”
    So the next thing scientists working in these fields should pose a question-
    What was the environment in which these people were running long distances completely devoid of carnivours and predators stronger than humans?

    Where were the exclusive Jungles where there was fences all around the perimeter where they were running long distances with signs” Do Not Trespass” for the possible predators of humans ?

  • Devesh #1
    Sep 12, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    So the next thing scientists working in these fields should pose a question-
    What was the environment in which these people were running long distances completely devoid of carnivours and predators stronger than humans?

    @OP – Between 2 and 3 million years ago, our African ancestors adapted to a climate period that caused forests to thin and arid savannahs to expand.
    Changes to their biology and skeletal structure enabled them to run longer distances, offering a survival advantage in hunting prey, scientists say.

    Groups of hunters carrying spears or stone axes are avoided by predators which will avoid any injury, so will seek easier prey.
    Big cats in Africa, India, or Asia, still usually avoid humans, unless they can ambush unwary individuals.

    Even today, some African tribal hunters only armed with bows, can intimidate lions and steal meat from their kill!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=QDubMeNlSxc
    Human Planet- Stealing Meat from Lions.

    Where were the exclusive Jungles where there was fences all around the perimeter where they were running long distances with signs” Do Not Trespass” for the possible predators of humans ?

    The jungles provide cover and trees where humans, apes, or othe animals can climb beyond the reach of lions.
    In some jungles the thorny vegitation is a thick as fence or hedge, and requires a machete-cut path for bulky urban humans to enter.
    The climate cycles of interchancging areas of jungle and savannah, have been repeating in Africa for millions of years.
    In recent geological time, the Sahara was green with seasonally running rivers just as other areas of Africa are at present.

  • Alan4discussion #2
    Sep 13, 2018 at 6:53 am
    You do provide explainations and examples to smoke away my doubts. Thanks.
    Since you like to counter correct a statement and see things that are logical guesses at explaining difficult questions, just to deviate from the subject of the article,
    Which would have came first ?
    The standing of humans ,
    the development of large groups of humans or
    use of any kind of weapons that would threaten the predators ? or its sequence.

    Assuming that every development is taking place among predators.
    As I imagine , if standing developed first then it was a self defeating change for –
    1. The standing creatures are more visible to the predators that before.
    2. The standing creatures are at loss with their ability to run faster in an environment which is uneven, comprised of shrubs, grass and trees. At least you will agree that two legged creatures cant run faster than four legged ones without loosing control and falling down. And even the surviving creatures affirm the case that four legged creatures are better runners than humans in a Jungle kind of environment.
    Again assuming that weapons were not developed in the four legged stage.

  • LaurieB #3
    Sep 13, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Big cats were and still are a threat to human safety.
    Here’s a recent report of a death by attack of a mountain lion in Oregon:

    You are quite right, but in evolutionary terms it is the survival of the species with predation seletively removing the less adapted which is the key issue, rather than the threat to isolated individuals.

    Lions have been predating buffalo for millennia, and buffalo have been goring or trampling lions for just as long! Neither has gone extinct as a result of this.

  • Devesh #4
    Sep 13, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Which would have came first ?
    The standing of humans ,
    the development of large groups of humans

    I think this is too simple a model of the ecosystems.

    Fossils show branching evolution produced a range of species of apes and hominids spread over huge land areas. Some persisted for millennia, others died out.
    I would suggest that both happened simultaneously, with some groups more successful than others.
    If we look at modern apes and monkeys, some species gather in thousands (Geladas), others in small groups or families (Chimps gorillas), or pairs, mothers and babies, or individuals (orangutans).

    or use of any kind of weapons that would threaten the predators ? or its sequence.

    Both some primates and some birds use simple tools. Monkeys will throw sticks or dung at predators from the safety of trees. Many birds will bomb predators with droppings.

    Assuming that every development is taking place among predators.
    As I imagine , if standing developed first then it was a self defeating change for –
    1. The standing creatures are more visible to the predators that before.

    The converse is also true. Predators are more visible from a higher viewpoint above the tall grasses, and predators really don’t like alarm calls which alert all the animals in the area to their presence.

    The standing creatures are at loss with their ability to run faster in an environment which is uneven, comprised of shrubs, grass and trees.

    Two legs are more suited to open grassland, than scrub vegitation. However, patches of scrub, do provide cover. Modern African tribes protect their cattle and goats at night with hedges/walls of thorn bushes.

    At least you will agree that two legged creatures can’t run faster than four legged ones without loosing control and falling down.

    There is no hard and fast evidence for this.

    Some four-legged creatures are very fast (Cheetahs antelopes). Others like tortoises or hedgehogs are slow.

    So upright apes with human style adapted hip-joints, are faster than those with Chimp-style hip-joints. Apes evolved for tree dwelling and jumping through the high forest canopy, have an incredibly well developed sense of distance and balance.

    Of couse primates before the advent of cooking, also had a good defensive set of teeth. It is foolish for most predators to tackle an adult male Chimp, Gorilla, or Baboon!

    One key issue is whether either the predator or prey, is organised into co-ordinated packs or herds.

  • Alan4discussion #5
    Sep 13, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I was responding to Devesh when he asked:

    What was the environment in which these people were running long distances completely devoid of carnivours and predators stronger than humans?

    The short answer is – Never! Unless one is running in a closed gymnasium in the present day. Big carnivores must have always been a threat and they still are as we saw a few days ago in the Oregon incident.

  • Devesh #4
    Sep 13, 2018 at 7:49 am

    At least you will agree that two legged creatures can’t run faster than four legged ones without loosing control and falling down.

    I think the ostriches, (like the Tyranosaurs before them), would disagree with you!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_ostrich#Behaviour_and_ecology

    With their acute eyesight and hearing, common ostriches can sense predators such as lions from far away.
    When being pursued by a predator, they have been known to reach speeds in excess of 70 km/h (43 mph),[7] and can maintain a steady speed of 50 km/h (31 mph), which makes the common ostrich the world’s fastest two-legged animal.

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